SE Texas loses tremendous sports icon Payton

Published 12:02 pm Monday, January 29, 2018

The Southeast Texas sports world lost a legend over the weekend.

John Payton, passed away Saturday morning.

Payton became the first African-American coach at Lamar University when athletics director J.B. Higgins hired him in May of 1970 to coach offensive backs under then-coach Vernon Glass. Payton remained in that position with the Cardinals until 1982 when he was the assistant to head coach Ken Stephens.

Payton was a key part of a Cardinals’ staff that helped rebuild the program in the early 1970s. After posting a three-win season in 1970, the Cardinals improved by two wins the following season and posted an eight-win season in 1972. Big Red posted another eight-win campaign two years later. The two eight-win campaigns remain tied for the most single-season wins as a four-year institution in program history.

Payton helped bring some of the nation’s top talent to LU during his time on staff. The NFL beat a path to the Golden Triangle drafting nine different Cardinals while Payton was on staff, with several other players signing free agent contracts.

Payton was placed in the Lamar Hall of Fame in 2003.

Payton was a highly successful football, basketball and track coach at Woodville’s Scott High School and Beaumont’s Charlton-Pollard. He led Scott to back-to-back state basketball championships in 1957 and 1958. He added to that success by leading Charlton-Pollard basketball team to the 1964 state title and the 1970 Region III track and field championship.

An outstanding running back at Prairie View A&M, Payton earned All-American honors in 1954 and 1955. Payton, who taught physical education at LU for more than 30 years, was also a highly distinguished high school football and basketball official with the University Interscholastic League (UIL).