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Nominees announced, voting open for 2015 Walter Payton Achievement Award

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The six nominees for the eighth annual Walter Payton Achievement Award, which is given to one player from each team participating in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney, were announced today. The 11th annual game, which showcases and celebrates teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, will feature the South Carolina State University Bulldogs of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 6, at the newly renovated Orlando Citrus Bowl and will be televised live on ESPN.

The 2015 nominees include South Carolina State senior defensive back Antonio Hamilton, senior tight end Temarrick Hemingway and redshirt sophomore linebacker Darius Leonard, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff junior linebacker Willie Duncan III, redshirt senior safety Kevin Rucker Jr. and redshirt junior wide receiver Willie Young.

“We are pleased to continue this tradition of recognizing outstanding student-athletes,” said Pete Derzis, senior vice president, ESPN Events. “The nominations themselves, for the Walter Payton Achievement Award, further exemplify each player’s desire to never stop achieving more.”

First presented in 2008, the Walter Payton Achievement Award is named in honor of the late Walter Payton, a former All-American at Jackson State University (1971 to 1974) and Professional Football Hall of Fame running back who spent his entire NFL career (1975 to 1987) with the Chicago Bears. The award recognizes exemplary student-athletes, shining a light on character and embodiment of team spirit.

Finalists are selected by a committee consisting of academic advisers and coaches from the two participating schools. Voting for the 2015 Walter Payton Achievement Award opens Tuesday, July 21, and closes Wednesday, Aug. 26. Award winners are announced at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge welcome banquet at the Walt Disney World Resort. The award, to be given out this year on Friday, Sept. 4, is regularly presented by Walter Payton’s son, Jarrett Payton.

The 2015 nominees from South Carolina State include senior defensive back Antonio Hamilton, senior tight end Temarrick Hemingway and redshirt sophomore linebacker Darius Leonard. The nominees from Arkansas-Pine Bluff are junior linebacker Willie Duncan III, redshirt senior safety Kevin Rucker Jr. and redshirt junior wide receiver Willie Young.

“The Walter Payton Achievement Award is special because it not only acknowledges the hard work student-athletes put in on the football field, but also the work they put into the classroom,” Jarrett Payton said. “The MEAC/SWAC Challenge is a part of my family’s fabric. Having this award in my father’s name means the world to the entire Payton family.”

Past winners of the Walter Payton Achievement Award include, for 2014: Alan Cruz, Alabama A&M, and Quentin Todd, North Carolina A&T State University; 2013: Jonathan Pillow, Florida A&M University, and Kevin Eugene, Mississippi Valley State University; 2012: Bobby Wenzig, Alabama State University, and Arlen McCray-Nibbs, Bethune-Cookman University; 2011: Nesly Marcellon, Bethune-Cookman University, and Raheem Cardwell, Prairie View A&M University; 2010: Kevin Green, Delaware State University, and Gary Hollimon, Southern University; 2009: Van Phillips, Grambling State University, and Zachary Middleton, South Carolina State University; 2008: Kevin Teel, Hampton University, and Marcus Smith, Jackson State University.

Tickets to the MEAC/SWAC Challenge Presented by Disney can be purchased through Ticketmaster online, by calling 1-800-745-3000 or by visiting www.meacswacchallenge.com.

The MEAC/SWAC Challenge Presented by Disney is owned and operated by ESPN Events, a subsidiary of ESPN.


  ESPN Events ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a large portfolio of 31 collegiate sporting events worldwide. The roster includes three Labor Day weekend college football games; FCS opening-weekend game; 13 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events and two college award shows, which accounts for approximately 300-plus hours of programming, reaches almost 64 million viewers and attracts over 700,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in Albuquerque, Birmingham, Boca Raton, Boise, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Montgomery and St. Petersburg, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans. ESPN Events also manages the Big 12 Corporate Partner Program. Collegiate Football AdvoCare Texas Kickoff (Houston); Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl (Atlanta); Bahamas Bowl (Nassau); Birmingham Bowl (Alabama); Boca Raton Bowl (Florida); Camping World Kickoff (Orlando, Fla.); Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise); Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque); Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff (Montgomery, Ala.); Hawai’i Bowl (Honolulu); Las Vegas Bowl (Nevada); Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dallas-Fort Worth); MEAC/SWAC Challenge (Baton Rouge, La.); Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Ala.); St. Petersburg Bowl (Florida); Texas Bowl (Houston); The Home Depot College Football Awards (Atlanta) and Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas-Fort Worth) Collegiate Basketball AdvoCare Invitational (Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla.); Armed Forces Classic (Ramstein Air Base, Germany); College Basketball Awards Presented by Wendy’s (Los Angeles); Gildan Charleston Classic (South Carolina); Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (Honolulu); Jimmy V Men’s  Classic presented by Corona (New York City); Jimmy V Women’s Classic presented by Corona (TBD); NIT Season Tip-Off (Brooklyn, N.Y.); PK80 (Portland, Ore.); Puerto Rico Tip-Off (San Juan); State Farm Champions Classic (Chicago) and Wooden Legacy (Fullerton, Calif.) For more information, visit the official website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages. ESPN Media Contact: Rachel Margolis Siegal at 860-766-2798 or [email protected]