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  • Aunyae Imani

“Lock in and Stay Prepared” - Rico Payton

Explosion Sports Flight Academy has one mission; Help student athletes grow academically, personally, and professionally. Training with the academy even for one year gives an athlete the experience and tools needed to grow. The academy is a gateway to many opportunities beyond the field for these athletes. College ball and or professional ball, is the next step in their careers and Flight Academy molds them so they can be ready for what's to come. Cornerback Rico Payton, graduated from Lindbergh High School, spent one year at Southern Illinois University, and is currently attending Pittsburg State in Kansas. 

Payton started playing football in sixth grade. He always had a desire for the sport but was never able to play due to not having the resources to obtain the proper equipment. However, Payton got his chance to play while attending a practice with his friend. It was a flag football practice and Payton showed up and showed out. His performance obtained him a spot on the team and his coach even offered to buy him what he needed to play. Ever since that day his love for the game grew stronger and stronger. Payton knew he wanted to provide for his family. He knew staying dedicated and focused on his game would lead him onto a path of success and greatness. He made sure to work on his game everyday to better his craft and strengthen his abilities. Through all his hard work, Payton tolerated knee pain. He eventually had to get his first knee surgery during sophomore year of highschool. The surgery concluded that he had a joint disorder known as osteochondritis. This knee disorder causes segments of the bone and cartilage to begin to separate from the rest of the bone due to added tension and stress on the knee. Payton’s knowledge of his joint disorder did nothing but add more motivation towards his love for the game. Payton says, “I focused strictly on football that summer going into senior year of highschool”. He took what may be seen as a disadvantage and made it work in his favor. Unfortunately, he underwent another knee surgery during his senior year of highschool. Having multiple surgeries can cause anybody to lose their enthusiasm for the game. Payton states, “ I was down, I was depressed. But it was just a minor setback for a major comeback. I got closer to God and planned to play as a true freshman at SIU”. He knew he had to adjust his system of play to a style that worked well for him and his knee. Payton graduated highschool with the titles of All-State and All-Conference, and went onto Southern Illinois University. 

The Flight Academy gave Payton his confidence back. All in one year, he was able to thrive and expand his technique with the help of his coaches and peers. The Academy is built for athletes to come together, work together, and challenge one another. Flight Academy hosted tryouts, and Payton was one of many that made the team, “Making the team shifted my perspective. It was time to lock in and do what needed to be done in order to move forward to the next level.” Payton’s experience with Flight got him the recognition he needed. He also received his first offer to play college ball because of his unique style of play being showcased with the Flight Program. 

“Coach Greg played a huge part in getting me noticed. He was always willing to take me to different combine camps and put me in front of some of the big college coaches. The attention I gained felt real good and the energy was smooth. Without Flight I prolly wouldn’t be as good as I am nor would I have received any of the offers I got”. 

The practices and 7on7 games shaped Payton into the player he is today, “Playing against some of the top players in our region was like iron sharpening iron. I played cornerback and coming out of the Flight program, I was more defined and developed in my position”, says Payton. He knew the Academy was just a stepping stone for more greatness in life. Flight prepared Payton for what was next, and trained him on the field and off. His main motivation was making his mom proud.

“My mom has lupus, and growing up we were living off disability checks. I would always tell myself when I got older I would make it happen for us and as I keep growing I still plan to do just that”, shared Payton. 

Payton’s time at SIU was spent in rehab. The athletic department never cleared him to play, “That year at SIU was my toughest year. I had to dig down and find that motivation, find my why and trust in God’s plan”. Payton shifted gears and changed his mindset. He became extremely focused on his craft and bettering himself to prove the doubters wrong, “I knew I had to keep grinding and going as hard as I could”. He never gave up on himself and neither did his coach. Payton’s cornerback coach got a job at Pittsburg State and offered him a spot on the team. After one year at SIU, Payton transferred in 2019 to Pittsburg State. He trusted his coach and knew he would be in great hands with his new team. 

Rico Payton is 23 years old and actively studying Sports Recreation, with a minor in coaching. His main goals are to become an All-American during his last semester of school, and become a professional player in the NFL. Some of his dream teams are; Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, and the Arizona Cardinals. His long term passion is to make a way of for the kids that may not be able to participate in football the way he was not able to growing up. Payton plans to be a helping force in their lives to give them a chance the way he got his. 

To younger student athletes Payton says “Don't take anything for granted, don't follow the crowd, lock in at an early age and stay prepared”. 

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