In a crowd, Payton Usher is fairly easy to miss, standing only 5-foot-7 and weighing about 160 pounds. The same thing goes on the football field.
Usher is having a superb college football debut in Mercers return to the field, one of two freshmen on the Pioneer Football Leagues top-10 rushing list and ranking 30th nationally on the FCS level. And he has been fairly easy for defenders to miss.
Regardless of your size, when you play college ball, if somebody gets their hands on you, most likely, you will go down, Usher said. Youve got to avoid people. I think I have an advantage with that because Im smaller and quicker.
And he is unconcerned with size disadvantages.
I dont feel intimidated or anything because Im 160 pounds, he said. I just go out and play.
Usher has been a versatile running back in Mercers pistol offense. While not big, hes strong enough to run up the middle or stay in and block.
That lack of size, however, is what has helped him average 101 yards per game. He certainly has shown an ability to find a hole and then find another one. He has several big runs, including for 65 yards against Berry and last weeks 52-yard touchdown run against Carnegie Mellon.
But he can be patient. His longest run against Drake was 9 yards, and he finished with 90 yards on 22 carries. And after a rough 26-yard, 13-carry day in the teams loss to San Diego, Usher came back with 109 yards on 19 carries -- with a 41-yarder -- in the win over Valparaiso.
Mercer has taken care each week of the lower-level competition, so Ushers day or night has often been done by halftime, and not many of his 103 carries have come in the fourth quarter.
Thats good and bad.
Id like to be playing the whole game, said Usher, a biology major. But if were winning big, thats great. Id rather have a W than stats any day.
Usher was a wingback in a double-wing, double-slot offense at Northgate in Newnan.
He would always circle around and get option pitches; he would always get a little inside handoff, Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. And you could tell he could run. He had great agility in space.
Air Force was trying to get Northgate teammate Alex Lakes and Usher, but Usher wasnt interested in going that far to go to college, and playing football wasnt his top priority. North Greenville and Delta State were among those that looked at Usher, but they also had distance against them. And Usher was interested in the education part.
Suddenly, Mercer had both.
We came here on a visit, said Usher, who will be joined by Lakes on the roster next year. Me and my dad were saying right away, D-I football and go to a great university. I thought about it for about a week.
He was one of Mercers top 50 signees in that initial class of 104, but Usher really caught Lambs attention before a football was involved.
The first weeks, we didnt do any football stuff, Lamb said. We did mostly just agility drills, and he was the star of the agility drills. His change of direction was incredible, his ability to burst upfield was incredible, his ability to get on the ground and off the ground in the drills that we do was pretty good.
We knew we had a pretty good football player just after the first week of drills.
And then the football part kicked in.
To me, the most surprising thing is just durability. A guy that small playing a premiere position at the Division I FCS level, hes been very durable, Lamb said. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, his ability to get in space ...
But durability-wise, you would think, OK, this guy may last a little while and he may take a little break. His durability has been unreal.