Jonathan Hull, Times Record News
Published June 8, 2017
Without his pads on, Payton McAlister isn’t exactly an imposing figure. But something changes once he suits up and steps out on the football field.
McAlister had a prolific career at Decatur, rushing for 4,139 yards and catching 155 passes for 2,418 more yards. Not to mention, the 85 times he found the end zone as a three-year starter for the Eagles. All this at 5 feet, 9 inches and 185 pounds, but running like he was 30 pounds heavier.
“It’s just how I’ve always played,” said McAlister, who is playing for East Texas at this week’s Oil Bowl. “I don’t know how to explain it. I put the pads on and, I don’t know, I just run as hard as I can.”
McAlister was an all-state selection as a senior, rushing for 1,693 yards and 27 touchdowns, while catching 70 passes for 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns. He turned that production into a scholarship to play at Florida Tech. But before he heads to Melbourne, Florida, McAlister wanted to see how he stacked up with some of the other top players in North Texas.
“This game has a great tradition,” McAlister said. “I can remember coming to an Oil Bowl as a kid when my dad was coaching it. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play in one now. I think it’s a great opportunity to see how I stack up here. Every guy here was the top guy on their team.”
East Texas is filled with talented running backs, too. Joining McAlister in the backfield is Wichita Falls High School’s Stephen Gaines and Gunter’s Colson Stovall. Krum quarterback Brandon Reeves is a nifty ball carrier in his own right.
But finding a way to get the ball into the hands of McAlister shouldn’t be a problem. He’s got one of the most versatile skill sets on either roster this week with the ability to line up in the slot.
“I’m expecting to play in the slot some,” McAlister said. “Whatever I need to do to help the team. I can catch the ball. I can run jet sweeps. I’ve done all of that before. It’s probably what I’m going to do in college, too.”
Florida Tech was the one school that recruited McAlister as a true running back. Many colleges thought he fit in the slot for them at the next level, and McAlister isn’t opposed to the position change.
“I think Florida Tech will give me a chance to be a running back, but I know I’ll end up in the slot some, too,” McAlister said. “It’s wherever they need me.”
Florida Tech is a relatively new NCAA Division II started in 2013. The Panthers finished tied for second in the Gulf South Conference last season behind North Alabama, which played for the Division II national championship.
“I know they’re a newer program, but they play in a tough conference and did pretty well last year,” McAlister said. “I think it’s a chance to be a part of a building program. It’s going to be a big change from Decatur, Texas, but I’m looking forward to it. The beach is only a few miles from campus.”
With the beach calling, McAlister will step onto Joe Golding Field at Memorial Stadium for what could be his final game in Texas. He’s excited it’s not supposed to be as soggy as it has been the other times he’s played on it.
“It seems like it’s raining every time I play here,” McAlister said. “I know it was pouring last season.”
McAlister braved the torrential downpour to lead Decatur to a 35-21 victory against Hirschi, rushing for 146 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
“They’ve had some really good players at Hirschi since we’ve been playing them,” McAlister recalled. “I remember Cedric Battle. He ran for a lot of yards against us. They had some good running backs last year, too. I’m looking forward to playing here again.”
And then moving on to the next phase of his life.
“It’s a chance to play one more time before I go to college,” McAlister said. “I’m glad I get the opportunity.”