Chattanooga, TN (Sports Network) -
Colgate running back Jamaal Branch was named the 17th winner of the Walter Payton Award at the FCS College Football Awards on the eve of the FCS national championship game.
The junior rushed for 2,026 yards and 25 touchdowns in the 2003 regular season, bolting for 100 or more yards in 11 of 12 regular season contests. Branch led Colgate to a perfect 12-0 record, an outright Patriot League title, and a spot in the FCS playoffs as the field's only undefeated team. The Raiders will play Delaware tomorrow night for the FCS championship. After sitting out all of 2002 for personal reasons, Branch led all of Division I football with 168.8 rushing yards and 12.5 points per game this season, setting Colgate records for yards (2,026), touchdowns (25), rushes (338), 100-yard games (11), and consecutive 100-yard games (11).
Said Colgate head coach Dick Biddle: "Since the first Walter Payton award winner was a Colgate graduate (Kenny Gamble), it is an honor that Jamaal Branch has been chosen to receive this prestigious award. Jamaal exemplifies everything that Walter Payton personified. He is an outstanding player of great character and talent. However, Jamaal's greatest asset is his unselfishness; he is a total team player. The entire Colgate community, players, coaches, students and faculty are honored that Jamaal Branch is the 2003 Walter Payton Award winner."
Branch began the 2003 season as a backup, rushing six times for just four yards in the Raiders' season-opening win over Georgetown. But the 6-0, 209-pounder would have his coming out party the following week, bolting for 170 yards and a pair of scores in a 38-15 rout of FBS Buffalo. Branch rushed for 211 yards and three scores in his next outing against Dartmouth, with that performance marking the first of four 200-yard days for the junior. Branch also went over the 200-yard barrier against Cornell (226 yards, 2 TD), Lafayette (200 yards, 2 TD), and Holy Cross (280 yards, 3 TD), with each of the double-century performances coming on the road. Branch also dominated prime Patriot League opposition, putting up big numbers against the likes of Towson (176 yards, 1 TD), Bucknell (175 yards, 2 TD), Lehigh (119 yards), and Fordham (131 yards, 2 TD). For his efforts, Branch was named Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year.
Branch is the eighth running back to win the Payton Award, and the first junior since Furman's Louis Ivory in 2000. The Mashpee, MA native became the first player from the Patriot League to win the Payton since Colgate's Kenny Gamble in 1987, and made his school the third to boast two such honors. Idaho (John Friesz in 1989, Doug Nussmeier in 1993) and Villanova (Brian Finneran in 1997, Brian Westbrook in 2001) had previously supplied a pair of Payton winners.
Branch received 35 first-place votes and 310 points from the panel of nearly 100 FCS sports information directors and selected media. Following Branch in the voting were Grambling State quarterback Bruce Eugene, who earned 17 first-place votes and 237 total points, and Delaware quarterback Andy Hall, who had 17 first-place votes and 219 total points.
The Walter Payton Award was established in 1987 by The Sports Network.