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Walter Payton Achievement Award nominees named

Voting now open and winners to be announced Sept. 3

Six student-athletes are nominated, but only two will take home the coveted Walter Payton Achievement Award — named in honor of Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, an All-American who starred at Jackson State University from 1971-1974. Launched in 2008 — and presented for the first time in partnership with The Undefeated — the award is presented to one player from each school participating in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)/Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Challenge, who are high achievers in the classroom and key contributors on the field.

The 12th annual game, which showcases and celebrates teams from historically black colleges and universities, will feature Bethune-Cookman University (from the MEAC) vs. Alcorn State University (SWAC). The game will be played on Sept. 4 at 1 p.m. EST at Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium and be televised on ESPN. Voting for the 2016 Walter Payton Achievement Award began July 19 and closes Aug. 19. The final two winners will be announced at the welcome banquet on Sept. 3 at the Daytona International Speedway. Previous winners were presented the award by Jarrett Payton, son of the Hall of Famer.

A member of the College and Pro Football halls of fame, the elder Payton played his entire NFL career with the Chicago Bears (1975-87). Payton died in 1999 at the age of 45 after struggling with a rare liver disease. Payton’s legacy also includes college football’s Walter Payton Award and the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.


Alcorn State University nominees

Lenorris Footman, Quarterback

Alcorn State quarterback Lenorris Footman (17).

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

Hometown: Monticello, Florida

Major: Criminal Justice

Class: Senior

Footman rushed for 1,142 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in 11 games last season. The criminal justice major also threw for 1,106 yards and 14 touchdown passes while leading Alcorn State to the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. “He is the leader of this team and an awesome football player,” said Alcorn State coach Fred McNair. “He is a hard worker and takes pride in carrying this team on his back.”

Michael Hurns, Linebacker

North Carolina A&T Aggies running back Tarik Cohen (28) is tackled by Alcorn State Braves linebacker Michael Hurns (47) and defensive back Anthony Williams Jr. (19) in the second quarter of the 2015 Celebration Bowl at the Georgia Dome.

Alcorn State Braves linebacker Michael Hurns (No. 47).

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Hometown: Cleveland, Mississippi

Major: Biology

Class: Senior

Hurns is coming off an impressive 2015 campaign, notching 27 solo tackles, 18 assisted, 6.0 tackles for losses, three sacks and one quarterback hurry. “He displays great character and leadership on and off the field,” said McNair of Hurns, a three-year starter who was voted senior class president.

Charles Hughes, Wide Receiver

Charles Hughes (5) of Alcorn State University.

Charles Hughes (5) of Alcorn State University.

Courtesy of Alcorn State University

Hometown: Macon, Mississippi

Major: Chemistry

Class: Senior

Hughes played in all 11 games as the Braves sure-handed wide receiver last season. The versatile wideout and return man — the third person in his family to wear the No. 5 — also runs track. “He is the true definition of a hard worker both on and off the field,” McNair said.

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Bethune-Cookman nominees

Ja-Quan Lumas, Tight End

Ja-Quan Lumas

Ja-Quan Lumas

Courtesy of Bethune-Cookman

Hometown: Orlando, Florida

Major: History

Class: Redshirt junior

Lumas showed promise playing in all 11 games, including three starts, last season. A history major, Lumas had nine catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns. “Ja-Quan encompasses everything that a student-athlete should be in college,” said Bethune-Cookman coach Terry Sims. “He serves in his community by giving back in Orlando, as well as in the Daytona Beach area. He is also a true student in and out of the classroom.”

Michael Jones, Running Back

Quentin Williams #3 hands the ball off to Michael Jones #21 of the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats during second quarter action against the Miami Hurricanes on September 5, 2015 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Michael Jones (No. 21) of Bethune-Cookman University.

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Hometown: Sarasota, Florida

Major: Physical Education/Recreation

Class: Senior

Jones was the Wildcats’ second-leading rusher with 562 yards last season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry over 11 games. “Mike Jones is a young man that started as a walk-on, only to work his way to being a scholarship student-athlete,” Sims said. “He was always told he was not fast enough, was too small and not good enough. But he has proved everyone wrong, and is playing collegiate football at a Division I institution.”

Jawill Davis, Wide Receiver

Bethune-Cookman's Jawill Davis

Bethune-Cookman’s Jawill Davis (No. 17).

Courtesy Bethune-Cookman

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Major: Liberal studies

Class: Redshirt junior

An All-MEAC selection, Davis was the team’s leading receiver last season (39 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns). “Jawill was a young man that we knew would have a breakout season in 2015,” said Sims of Davis, who was used sparingly as a freshman. “He used his redshirt sophomore season to make a name for himself in the league. He not only has a bright future in college, but a young man that can be a great football professional football player, or a great professional in the work world when he graduates.”

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Donald Hunt, a writer for the Philadelphia Tribune, is a longtime ESPN contributor who has covered Historically Black Colleges and Universities.