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Jayson Foster's big night
Walter Payton Award winner to be announced tonight
Jayson Foster looks for yardage in this photo from the Eagles' 38-35 win over Appalachian State in October. - photo by Special
      In his downtime between raising 4-month-old Adrian Jr. and preparing for his role as a running back for the Chicago Bears, former Georgia Southern great Adrian Peterson often goes online to check up on his beloved Eagles.

            Thanks to the Internet, he’s able to catch highlights from every game, and the former Walter Payton Award winner is always impressed by Jayson Foster. Foster, who recently wrapped up his own outstanding career at GSU and earned his diploma, is in line to join Peterson as the only two Eagles to win the prized Payton, awarded annually to the most outstanding offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

            Foster is one of three finalists for the accolade, which will be announced in Chattanooga, Tenn., tonight, on the eve of the national championship matchup between Appalachian State and Delaware.

            Does Peterson think Foster is deserving of the prestigious honor?

            “Oh yeah,” Peterson said in a phone conversation this week. “He’s a great athlete. Whether he’s playing quarterback, halfback or catching punts, he’s a guy who can go out there and achieve at all of those things.”

            Versatility was the hallmark of Foster’s record-shattering career, which culminated this fall with his return to starting quarterback. Foster set the NCAA Division I record for rushing yards by a quarterback, gaining 1,844 yards to motor the Eagles to a respectable 7-4 finish.

He was tabbed the Southern Conference’s offensive player of the year, and his rushing total ranked second behind Peterson on GSU’s all-time list and third in the SoCon record books. Foster gained a school-record 3,047 yards of total offense this fall, breaking the previous mark set by legendary Eagle quarterback Tracy Ham, a College Football Hall of Famer.

            “I call him the most exciting player in football – any level, any division,” Furman coach Bobby Lamb said earlier this year. “He’s probably the best player pound-for-pound that I’ve seen. He can dominate a game like no other. It all starts with him. He’s the X-factor. He makes all the difference in the world.”

The other two Payton finalists are also quarterbacks – Josh Johnson from San Diego and Eric Sanders of Northern Iowa. Johnson ranked first in the nation in passing efficiency (198.3) and total offense (371.4), throwing 43 touchdowns and one interception for San Diego, which competes at the non-scholarship level.

 .          Sanders, who led Northern Iowa to an undefeated regular season, was fourth nationally in passing efficiency during the regular season and 29th in total offense (224.1 yards per game), hitting 184 of 241 attempts for 2,237 yards and 15 touchdowns.

“It’s a great honor just to be on the final list,” Foster said. “I’m excited and anxious to get up there and meet some of the other players. (Johnson) has a lot of touchdown passes and (Sanders) was on the No. 1 team in the nation, so I guess my chances are just as good as theirs.”

At the end of the regular season, Foster was second in FCS with 167.6 rushing yards per game, third in scoring (13.5 points), fifth in all-purpose yards (189 yards) and 12th in total offense (277 yards). He also threw for 1,203 yards and six touchdowns on a 109-of-170 clip and didn’t throw an interception in GSU’s last six games.

“He’s the backbone of our football team,” first-year GSU coach Chris Hatcher said. “He makes us go. Every time he touches the ball, there’s a chance he can make a big play.”

Foster wasn’t on the preseason Payton Watch List but commanded attention and picked up national player of the week honors after amassing 311 yards of total offense and rushing for all six of the Eagles’ touchdowns – a school record – in a September win over Coastal Carolina.

“He’s an absolute freak,” Eagle safety Chris Covington said of Foster that night. “Nobody knows how he does what he does. I don’t think he knows. He’s amazing. He’s a great athlete, and to be completely honest, he’s a better person than he is an athlete. He’s an awesome person to root for.”

            Foster earned a spot as one of three finalists after running for three touchdowns and a career-high 279 yards – his fourth 200-yard rushing game of the season – against SoCon champion Wofford in November.