For the second time in less than two months, the Marshall football program is mourning the loss of one of its all-time great quarterbacks and most important figures.
Former Thundering Herd standout quarterback Michael Payton passed away Thursday from complications of cancer at age 48 just over a month after former Marshall quarterback Reggie Oliver passed away at age 66.
Payton is one of the greatest players Marshall football has ever had and was the catalyst for the unprecedented success the program reached in the early-1990’s. He is among the top statistical quarterbacks in program history in every category and left an indelible mark on Marshall.
Payton was recruited to Marshall out of Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania by then-Marshall head coach George Chaump and went on to start for three seasons at quarterback for the Herd under new head coach Jim Donnan.
The record books would feature Payton’s name for years to come as he carved out a tremendous legacy playing for the green and white. Payton was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year twice as well as the Male Athlete of the Year while leading Marshall to the 1991 1-AA National Championship game in the midst of a season in which he led the 1-AA in passing efficiency.
The Herd would have to wait an extra year, but the 1992 1-AA National Championship game proved to be the defining game for the program. Payton led Marshall to its first-ever 1-AA National Championship in 1992 in a season in which he won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in 1-AA football.
Payton was also a consensus first-team All-American during the 1992 season. He ended his superb Marshall career as a two-time first team all-conference selection and threw for 9,411 yards and 69 touchdowns. He took his talents to the professional ranks for a while when he spent part of the 1993 season with the Dallas Cowboys.
The CFL came calling after the Cowboys and Payton spent two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders before finishing his professional career with the Florida Bobcats of the AFL in 1996. Payton was inducted into the Marshall University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999.
Payton was immortalized in the annals of college football history in 2015 when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, becoming Marshall’s sixth inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame. In recent years, Payton took pride in making a difference in the lives of children.
He was active in D.A.R.E. and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, both being organizations that look to help guide and mentor children in life choices. Payton was also a senior staff counselor at Alternative Rehabilitation Communities in Pennsylvania while also serving as a personal trainer and life coach.
Payton was influential on and off the gridiron and his impact on so many lives was undeniable. He made a huge impact on Marshall football and helped guide the program into uncharted waters while helping set up the future success the program would see.
Marshall football became the winningest program in college football in the 1990’s, but it all started with Payton’s Thundering Herd teams in the early-1990’s and he helped shape the future of the program that would amass 114 wins in the decade. For a program that has boasted many outstanding quarterbacks, Payton is among the very best ever seen in Huntington, West Virginia.
Both Payton and Oliver have passed on, but Marshall football and its fans will never forget the legacy those two legends left behind for one of the proudest and most history-rich college football programs in the country.