Bloomington, Ind. – This time, Bryan Payton’s three-touchdown effort left a better taste in James Hardy’s mouth.
As Payton was taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity by rushing 13 times for 90 yards and three scores in Saturday’s 40-20 win over Minnesota, Hardy couldn’t help but think back to their days as standout preps in Ft. Wayne. At the time, Payton was a standout tailback at Concordia H.S., while Hardy was a raw but promising wideout at Elmhurst. During those years, Hardy saw first-hand what his opponent-turned-teammate was capable of on the football field.
“It’s been a long time coming for Payton,” Hardy said. “I saw it every week in high school, the way he torched us in high school. It’s about time.”
One game in particular stands out in both of their minds. During his 1,600-yard senior season, Hardy watched from the sidelines as Payton unleashed a career-best 365-yard day against their cross-town foe. The game started on Friday night, but after Elmhurst jumped to an early lead, inclement weather rolled in and forced the game to be postponed until Saturday.
When the two teams met the following day, Payton and Concordia steamrolled Hardy’s Elmhurst squad.
“We should have lost,” said Payton, drawing a nod from Hardy. “Luckily we came out the next day and were able to take care of business. If we had played that night, we would have lost.”
Not surprisingly, Hardy agrees with that assessment.
“That was our night,” said Hardy.
This past Saturday, meanwhile, proved to be Payton’s afternoon. He said he knew he was going to get an opportunity to play, but in-game injuries to both Marcus Thigpen and Josiah Sears left the tailback duties entirely in his hands.
He took advantage immediately. His first carry resulted in a 48-yard touchdown run up the middle, and he later added scoring runs of one and five yards. By the time his day had come to a close, his 90-yard effort was the best single-game performance by an IU tailback this season.
“I knew I was capable of rushing for touchdowns and doing great things,” Payton said. “Seeing yourself go in there in a big time, Big Ten game this weekend it felt like high school again to go out there and do something great. I knew I had it in me.”
The Indiana staff thought he had it in him as well. While he’s been stuck behind Thigpen, Demetrius McCray and Sears on the depth chart, this fourth-stringer’s performance was anything but a shock.
“When Bryan went in, it wasn’t like, ‘what’s going to happen now,’” said Coach Bill Lynch. “Bryan’s a good back. With how he played, I don’t think anyone on our sidelines was surprise because that’s what we’ve seen in practice.”
Hardy, meanwhile, has been seeing it for years. Fortunately for the Hoosier wideout, Payton’s big afternoon was cause for celebration instead of consternation this time around, and he told Payton as much after one of his late touchdown runs.
“Scoring that third touchdown, I came up to him, and said ‘just like we’re back at home,’” Hardy said.
“It’s good to see him at this stage. Everyone goes through their bumps, but he’s got confidence and everyone behind him and believing in him. We’re expecting big things from him like Concordia did with him.”