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

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 34 collegiate sporting events worldwide. The roster includes three Labor Day weekend college football games, the FCS opening-weekend game, 15 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events, a college softball event, an esports event and two college award shows, which accounts for approximately 375-plus hours of live programming, reaches almost 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in Albuquerque, Birmingham, Boca Raton, Boise, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Montgomery and Tampa, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans. For more information, visit the official websiteFacebookTwitter or YouTube pages. Collegiate Football Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl (Houston); AdvoCare Texas Kickoff (Houston); Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl (Atlanta); Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa, Fla.); Birmingham Bowl (Alabama); Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl (Florida); Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Ala.); Camping World Kickoff (Orlando, Fla.); Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise); Frisco Bowl (Texas);   Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff (Montgomery, Ala.); Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dallas-Fort Worth); Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl (Nassau);  MEAC/SWAC Challenge (Atlanta); Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl (Nevada); Myrtle Beach Bowl (South Carolina); New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque); SERVPRO First Responder Bowl (Dallas-Fort Worth); SoFi Hawai’i Bowl (Honolulu); The Home Depot College Football Awards (Atlanta) Collegiate Basketball Armed Forces Classic (Anchorage, Alaska); Charleston Classic (South Carolina); College Basketball Awards Presented by Wendy’s (Los Angeles); 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) Myrtle Beach Invitational (Conway, S.C.); NIT Season Tip-Off (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Orlando Invitational (Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla.);  Phil Knight Invitational (Portland, Ore.); State Farm Champions Classic (New York City) and Wooden Legacy (Fullerton, Calif.) Collegiate Softball St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational Presented by Wilson (Clearwater, Fla.) Collegiate Esports Collegiate Esports Championship (Houston) For more information, visit the official website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages.