Payton hopes to revive career with Argos

MISSISSAUGA -- The father is gone, but there are reminders of him whenever the son looks at a mirror.

"My dad is everywhere on me," said Jarrett Payton, who has five tattoos paying tribute to a man who gave his life to football and family. Pulling up his jersey, he reveals his favourite: a detailed sketch of his father, Walter, holding Jarrett as a little boy.

"He's staring at me and he's so proud of me," Payton said of the tattoo on his right hip.

Walter Payton died of a rare liver disease when he was just 45 years old. He never got to see his son play college at Miami, win the most valuable player award at the 2003 Orange Bowl or celebrate his first National Football League touchdown with the Tennessee Titans. But, aside from Jarrett's accomplishments, the thing that would likely please Walter the most is his son's resilience.

The Hall of Fame running back's posthumously published autobiography was titled Never Die Easy. And Jarrett, who lost his job in the NFL and was cut by the Montreal Alouettes following an ankle injury last summer, has taken a chapter out of the book.

After sitting out for 11 months, where he contemplated retirement, the 28-year-old is back on the field in a last-ditch effort to revive his career.

"My father would just be happy," Payton, also a running back, said of signing a contract Saturday to try out with the Toronto Argonauts. "He would say, ‘You never know how the chips will fall, but you just play hard and see what happens between these white lines.'

"If this doesn't work out here, this might be my last go-round. I'm giving my all on this field at this camp. I'm leaving everything on this field. And if it doesn't happen, I know I can walk away saying I did everything I could for myself and to help this team out."

While Payton appears to have the pedigree and passion to become a potential 1,000-yard rusher, he still has to prove that he can outrun the competition.

The six-foot-one, 225-pounder led the Alouettes in rushing with 163 carries for 852 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007, but he missed all of last year. And with a crowded Argos backfield that includes Tyler Ebell, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, newcomers Jay Lucas and Da'shawn Thomas, and returnees Jeff Johnson and Jamal Robertson, roster spots will be hard to come by.

"I think there's a great deal of competition at that position," Argos head coach Bart Andrus said. "I think there is some very good talent there and I think knowing Jarret's personality, he'll get in and compete. Whether or not he ends up making the team is yet to be seen. I think that's more in his control than anybody's."
Working in Payton's favour is familiarity.

In 2005, he played for Andrus in the NFL Europe, where the two won a World Bowl together in Amsterdam. Payton tied for the league lead with seven touchdowns and, according to Andrus, "was a big part" of the team's success.

"Really, the familiarity that I have with some of these players, it's important to me," said Andrus. "However, we let one of the guys go (linebacker Cory Peoples) that has played for me before. So there's other things involved."

Those other things include coming to camp in shape, putting the team ahead of individual concerns and playing with energy until the whistle stops on each and every play. It does not include using the CFL as a springboard back to the NFL, or whining to the coach that you did not get the jersey number that you have worn throughout your career.

"I'm a team guy. I really am," said Payton, adding that all the money in the world could not convince him to return to playing football in the United States. "I'd rather sacrifice all the other stuff to win a championship."

When asked what he thought about wearing No. 40 rather than the No. 33 he is more used to, Payton grinned.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to change that pretty soon," he said. "But right now, I'm just here to play."

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