Shared Pain, Shared Success
Had they not been forced to leave home and return to Southern California to live with their father, Bryan and Jeremy Payton might never have played football.
And Bryan might not have his scholarship to UCLA, and Jeremy might not be headed to Arizona State.
And Covina South Hills, undefeated and ranked No. 17 by The Times among Southland high school football teams, might not have won the Southern Section Division VII title in 2002.
But the pain of the loss that prompted the move can never be erased.
Bryan and Jeremy’s parents divorced when the twins were 4 years old. Four years later, the boys were living in Portland, Ore., when their mother and her boyfriend were killed by an acquaintance.
For two years, they were told by their grandmother that Debbie Payton had died in a car accident. When their father eventually told them “the harsh truth,” Jeremy said, they were enveloped by sadness a second time.
“After I got over the emotional stuff, it happened all over again,” Jeremy said. “It was real difficult. Hard for me to get close to anybody. Bryan, it’s hard for him to get close to anybody. He won’t say much.”
The boys’ father, Salaam Payton, was a Los Angeles Police Department training officer at the time.
“Bryan suffered the most,” Salaam said. “To this day, he still loves his mother and doesn’t want to talk about it. Jeremy has a different disposition; it’s something that happened and you’ve got to keep moving.”
Strictly baseball players in Oregon -- “I had only played Little League. I didn’t know what football was,” Bryan said -- the Payton brothers were introduced to football after moving in with their father.
It was a success on two fronts.
“Football is very important,” Salaam said. “It instills character.... I wanted them to be disciplined, organized and establish goals.”
And there was another purpose.
“It took some of the pain away because they were constantly doing something,” Salaam said. “That was their therapy.”
When South Hills Coach Steve Bogan saw Bryan and Jeremy playing catch with their dad on campus as freshmen, he knew they were talented. When he saw them shut down Long Beach Poly in a summer league passing game last year, he knew they were special indeed.
Little ol’ South Hills, Bogan realized, “had Poly-type talent.” That ability was on display again Friday in a 35-17 victory over Glendora. The win improved the Huskies record to 5-0.
Bryan caught 10 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and his first interception of the season set up another touchdown. Jeremy caught five passes for 47 yards and had an interception nullified by a roughing the passer penalty.
The Paytons, both 6-foot-2 seniors, are starting wide receivers and cornerbacks. It’s on defense where they play such pivotal roles in South Hills’ success.
Last season, South Hills had 30 interceptions on its way to winning the section championship. Bryan had 11; Jeremy eight.
The twins’ athletic ability, along with that of Martin Garcia, another defensive back, allows South Hills to often play only three in the secondary on pass coverage. That allows the Huskies to mount enormous pressure on opposing offenses with the other eight defenders.
The Paytons probably won’t match last year’s interception totals because teams have given up on the pass. Through four games, opponents had attempted only 31 passes, completing seven for 113 yards. Four passes have been intercepted, three by Jeremy. Bryan had two of South Hills’ five sacks.
Glendora quarterback Jacob Crook, who averaged 17.5 attempts and 149.8 yards through four games, tested the secondary 31 times Friday. He completed 15 passes for 176 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
South Hills had more success throwing. Philip Guerrero completed 18 of 23 passing for 196 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
“It’s amazing, no one’s throwing the ball [until Friday], and even when they do, they’re not completing passes,” Bogan said. “When you have coverage, you can bring more pressure.”
Since the Paytons arrived, South Hills has averaged 20 interceptions and more than 50 sacks a season.
The Paytons may look alike and enjoy success in football, but the similarities don’t go much further. Bryan leans toward hip-hop and R&B; music, and Jeremy likes all kinds, even country. Bryan keeps to himself, hangs with the varsity crowd and is quiet. Jeremy is friends with the world, outgoing and wants to make everyone laugh.
However, they also share a common goal. Both want to study criminal justice and work in law enforcement, Bryan as a police officer, Jeremy in special weapons and tactics.
“We wanted to define ourselves on our own, not be known as the twins,” Bryan said. “He wants to be known as Jeremy, and I’d like to be known as Bryan.”
Though different off the field, both excel on it. Bryan prefers defense, Jeremy prefers offense. Ironically, Bryan has more catches this season, and Jeremy has more interceptions.
Bryan has 33 receptions for 454 yards and four touchdowns. Jeremy has 18 receptions for 198 yards and four touchdowns.
One reason the Paytons haven’t been more prolific on offense, Bogan said, is that he focused on the long term -- winning a championship -- and has been trying to develop other players.
“We were holding back because we have to be able to do something else, we can’t just have the Paytons so people can load up on them,” Bogan said. “If we haven’t established anything else, we would be remiss. We’ve developed a more holistic offense. We know in crunch time, we’re going to get the ball in their hands in open space.”
Whether it’s the “turbo,” a quick pass to one of the Paytons, or the “fly,” a sweep in which one takes the handoff, or maybe Bogan’s favorite play, the fade pass, the Paytons figure to get the ball plenty as the games become more meaningful.
“Our battle with them is they’re not getting enough touches,” Bogan said.
“We sat them for a series in the Rosemead game to remind them it is a team sport and they’re here for the team, not themselves. They’re not against the team concept -- their argument is that when they get the ball, the team does well.
“And there’s a lot of truth to that.”