Brian Reed-Baiotto, Correspondent
One might think the road to becoming a high-profile running back at San Dimas High School might include a charmed path.
But for Saints junior Jake Payton, that road has seen more drama and heartache than many endure in a lifetime.
At the age of three, Payton was rescued from a substance-abused household by his grandmother, Martha Ferra.
Without the help of Jake’s biological mother or father, she raised Payton and three of his siblings for the next 12 years. Along the way, Payton gave into temptation and participated in the lifestyle his grandmother tried to shield him from.
While attending Lone Hill Middle School, Payton met counselor Shara Lyons and, with her support, decided he was going to lead a different life.
Lyons and her husband Peter took an interest in Payton’s life. When Payton’s grandmother moved to Hesperia following the death of her son in an auto accident, the Lyons provided a home and structure for the now 16-year-old Payton.
Payton is drug-free, has his grade-point average above 3.3 and is the focal point of coach Bill Zernickow’s football program. Most importantly, he is enjoying a productive and happy life.
“I made really bad decisions early on because of the environment I was in and my life was headed nowhere. But thanks to my grandma and the Lyons, I am now focused on all the things that matter,” Payton said. “I know my grandma feels guilty she couldn’t do it all by herself, but I want her to know she did more than enough and I’d never be in this position today without her love and guidance.”
Payton has become a member of the family and has fit in with the Lyons’ 15-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
“We’ve tried to provide Jake structure, and in return he’s made my children happy and is a great role model for them,” Shara Lyons said. “He’s given us a new appreciation of life and how good we had things. He also showed us what a difference you can make in someone’s life.”
With an ideal home life, Payton is able to focus on his studies and being the best football player he can be.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior rushed for 893 yards last season and had 14 touchdowns, while averaging just under 10 yards per carry. Not only will the team captain be the offensive focus, he also will spend time in the defensive backfield.
Payton’s already been a key force for the 2-0 Saints, rushing for 166 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-36 win over Bonita, and rushing for 165 yards in an easy 50-7 win over Azusa.
“Jake has been through the worst in life and now has hopes and goals,” Zernickow said. “He’s tough, has a great feel for the game and is a complete back. He’s also a great leader and his flash ability as a runner and vision separates him from a lot of running backs.”
Payton and Zernickow like the Saints’ chances of contending for another Valle Vista League championship and a deep run in the playoffs, thanks to the return of 14 starters and a solid team chemistry, which has been evident so far
“We’re a much closer team this year, and I think each of us wants to make sure we don’t let any of our teammates down so everyone works really hard every day,” Payton said. “I would love to score 20 touchdowns and break the rushing record, but I really just care about helping our team win as many games as possible.”
Payton has excelled in the first two weeks of the football season, but it’s the direction of his life that has him most content.
“I, with the help of my grandma and the Lyons, enjoy life for the first time and spend my waking hours doing everything I can to make sure I don’t let them down,” Payton said. “I’m so lucky to have amazing people in my life who care about me, and I hope my story can serve as inspiration to other kids who might be on the wrong path, and that they, too, can change their lives for the better.”