Walter To Wadlington: Hard Work Defines Gridiron Stars
Article previously released in SES Mississippi the Magazine.
Oxford running back Hiram Wadlington is constantly working to be great. Even mirroring a work ethic shared by NFL and College Football Hall of Famer and native Mississippian, the late Walter Payton.
Growing up in Columbia, Mississippi, the 13-year NFL veteran, former Chicago Bear and 3-time MVP Payton could be found running in his neighborhood with a ball in his hand. Wadlington, a rising junior and key returning starter for Oxford, can also be found running in his neighborhood, with a ball firmly tucked away in his arm.
“I know that he was born in Mississippi and attended Jackson State. I know he made it to the league, played for the Chicago Bears and is considered one of the greates,” Wadlington told SES Mississippi when asked what he knew about the legendary running back off the top of his head.
“He was successful and it started with the little things. With the ball being in my hand, I feel different, like I’m in another world.”
Last season Wadlington took advantage of increased opportunities after Drew Bianco went down with an injury. He rushed for 896 yards, 6.4 yards per carry, and 10 touchdowns last season. He also hauled in 48 passes for 644, good for 13.4 yards per catch, and another four scores. In the 5A state championship game against Wayne County he had 197 receiving yards and three total touchdowns.
While Walter Payton is no longer the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, he was when he hung up his cleats. He finished his career with 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns. Over the course of his career, he only missed one game and started 184 of the 190 games he played in his career.
While the two backs come from different times and eras, as well as playing in different offensive climates, Wadlington said the path to similar greatness takes hard work. His offseason has been all about just that as he is working out two times a day, as well as team practice and personal workouts. He keeps busy on his own on weekends, as well.
“It’s a process,” He said. “Hopefully it all pays off. My main focus is speed and I’m trying to throw in some track workouts. I can see the change in my explosiveness and my strength.”
“Our generation is different, specifically sports wise. It’s going to take a lot of individual time(to reach Payton’s level). I can’t just workout with my team and think I will make it. I have to keep God first and work on my own. It will pay on Friday nights.”
The Walter Payton Man of the Year award is one of the most prestigious honors bestowed upon an NFL player each season that displays extraordinary character. There was no one who would question the kind of man Payton was, and that was somewhat shaped by his roots in Mississippi.
With the same benefit of growing up in Mississippi, in some sense the home of hospitality, Wadlington is a kind and likable person. Who, also, is influenced and grateful for his family roots in the Magnolia state.
“The most important thing to me off the field is my family,” Wadlington stated. “They make me the person I am now and without my parents I wouldn’t be the kid I am now. They’ve kept me on the right path.”
Choosing the right people to allow into his life has also been a key for Wadlington. He leans on teammate Devin Rockette, a defensive back for the Chargers, and Jarkel Joiner, a member of the basketball team at Oxford.
“We all basically grew up together and played, and still play, ball together. We all want to make it to the next level, so we just strive for that goal together,” He explained.
The Oxford football program is undergoing a bit of a renaissance this offseason, having to replace longtime coach Johnny Hill. Also with multi-year starters Jack Abraham, DK Metcalf, Zach Cousar and others moving on from the program.
New head coach Chris Cutcliffe is in need of a new generation of Chargers to step into the holes left behind. Wadlington provided a spark last season as he revitalized the running game and paired it with a lethal passing attack. Naturally, he is already becoming one of the faces of the new Oxford group of playmakers.
“It feels good to know that, but I don’t think as much about me. It’s a team effort but that’s why I continue to work,” Wadlington said. “You never know who is trying to outwork you so you have to put in the work even when you don’t feel like it.”
“For this group, all the doubt is motivating us and we feel real good about our coaching staff. I feel like we have a chance(to breakthrough with a state championship). Every school lost people, so we are not different from anyone else.”
Not only does Wadlington feel as if this is the group that can finally get Oxford a football title, but he is confident that will be just what happens. Like himself, the key for his team is hard work. The doubt could be just the chip on their collective shoulder as a team that propels them over the top.
“As a group we have to stay focused. We’re just going to take it day-by-day and work as hard as we can. I believe we can do it. This group. This year,” Wadlington said.
**Photo by Keith Warren of the MHSAA.