The MEAC/SWAC Challenge, an ESPN Regional Television (ERT) owned-and-operated event, announced today the creation of the Walter Payton Achievement Award in honor of the NFL football legend known as “Sweetness.” Like Payton, who starred at Jackson State from 1971 to ’74 and earned his bachelor’s degree in communications, award winners are high achievers in the classroom and on the football field. The award will be given annually to a player from each of the schools participating in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney at the event’s Kick-Off Banquet, which this year, will take place in Orlando on Friday, Aug. 29. Doug Williams, former Washington Redskins quarterback and Super Bowl MVP, will be the banquet’s keynote speaker.

This year, The MEAC/SWAC Challenge will pit Hampton University from then MEAC against Jackson State University of the SWAC. The game will be played Labor Day Weekend,Sunday, Aug. 31, at 2 p.m. ET, telecast live on ESPN2 from the Florida Citrus Bowl.

The inaugural award recipients are Jackson State University linebacker Marcus Smith and Hampton University wide receiver Kevin Teel, who are both entering their senior year. Walter Payton’s son, Jarrett Payton, a running back for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, will present the award to Smith and Teel, who were selected by a committee consisting of academic advisers and coaches.

“This award is special,” said Payton, who was drafted in 2005 by the Tennessee Titans. “When you think about awards being named after someone, you had to have done something significant. My dad finished his degree in three years, which shows that he was a student first and an athlete second. He really showed that if you work hard it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

“We are proud to present this honor that symbolizes the great legacy of Walter Payton,” said Pete Derzis, senior vice president and general manager, ERT. “This award further personifies his good character through student-athletes that are successful academically and in the sport of football.”

“Walter Payton was one of the greatest of all time,” said Teel, an aviation electronics systems major. “This is as big an honor I could ever imagine.”

Smith, a criminal justice major, expressed: “This is a great honor to receive in the name of Payton who came from Jackson State and did great things on the field, as well as being an incredible role model off the field. Receiving awards like this continues to motivate me to strive for higher and higher goals.”

Payton, who was 45 when he died in 1999 of a rare liver disease, put Jackson State on the map when he played for coach Bob Hill in the mid-’70s. A nine-time NFL Pro Bowl selection, Payton made his mark with the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987, high-stepping and stiff-arming defenders to the tune of 16,726 rushing yards.

About the MEAC/SWAC Challenge
Each year, the game pits a MEAC team against a SWAC member at a neutral site within the footprint of one of the conferences. The inaugural MEAC/SWAC Challenge in 2005 showcased the MEAC’s South Carolina State vs. Alabama State of the SWAC, with South Carolina State prevailing, 27-14. In 2006, the contest went into overtime with the MEAC’s Hampton University defeating the SWAC’s Grambling State, 27-26. Last year, the SWAC earned its first MEAC/SWAC Challenge trophy as Southern defeated Florida A&M, 33-27. Teams for future games are determined on an annual basis.

For more information about the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, please visit


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