Adversity drives Ennis football captain to success

Linebacker overcomes broken leg in last year’s playoffs to break single-game school record for tackles

Patty Hullett
Daily Light correspondent
Ennis linebacker Payton Chapman (2) shows his strength against Crandall earlier in the season. Chapman overcame a broken leg in last year’s playoffs to break the single-game school record for tackles this season.

In 2019, Ennis junior linebacker Payton Chapman experienced an abrupt end to his football season on the evening of Nov. 30 at The Star in Frisco. His Lions team was able to advance in the playoffs after blanking the Frisco Raccoons in the battle at Ford Center, but Chapman was not quite so lucky. He had been injured during the game on a hard hit along the sidelines in the fourth quarter.

A silent crowd held their collective breath, as the young man was very carefully loaded onto a gurney and transported by ambulance to the nearby hospital to address the injury he had sustained.

Head Coach Sam Harrell reported a couple of days later, on Dec. 2, that Chapman had been operated on to repair the two broken bones in his right leg, but unfortunately, he was done for the season. He would be wearing a boot for the next two or three months for the bones to heal.

The following week, the Lions went on to fight the Aledo Bearcats in a head-on battle that ended in an Ennis overtime loss in the semi-finals, which would have sent the Lions on a trip to the state semifinals. Nevertheless, Aledo went on the following 2 weeks to capture the State Championship for the 5A Division II (small school) classification.

Injury spurs Chapman on

Chapman talks about his devastating injury, “It’s hard to describe the sinking feeling I had. On one hand, it was torture to me because I couldn’t play, but it was also hard for me to see my fellow teammates entering the field of battle without me being with them during the next playoff game. But one thing I’ve learned from all of this is that I need to embrace every moment on that football field — because in the blink of an eye, it all could be taken away.”

This persistent and determined young man lists himself, his attributes, his favorites, on his Twitter page as “Jesus Christ / Payton “The Bull” Chapman / Class of 2021 / 6’, 225lbs / MLB / ENNIS FOOTBALL”.

That pretty much sums up the persona of Payton Chapman in a nutshell. He tweeted a few weeks ago, “One year ago today, on November 30, 2019, I broke my leg in the regional playoff game against Frisco High School. It took every ounce of strength I had to overcome it, but I’ve bounced back and I’m better than ever!!!”

And “better than ever,” he absolutely has been. He has continued to wreak havoc over his opponents all year long in the 2020 season. In fact, he recently broke the long-standing record for the highest number of tackles in a single game against Royse City on Oct. 30. He surpassed the current Ennis Lions radio announcer (on 106.9 FM The Ranch) Ronnie Greer’s record set in 1976, and he was also a part of the 1975 Ennis Lions state championship team. And Greer was not just any old run-of-the-mill former Lion, but instead he was an All-American that played college football for the late Fred Akers at the University of Texas.

Chapman says of his feat, “I got 23 tackles against the Bulldogs. It felt great, but I couldn’t have achieved my success without my teammates and coaches. And it was awesome to hear that I had set a school record for tackles.”

Chapman has commanded the defensive field as the Lions middle linebacker this 2020 season. Not only has he led many games with the most tackles, but he also has had 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 quarterback sack, in addition to an astounding grand total of 97 tackles over 9 games.

Leader on the field

Chapman says, “I have never taken the responsibility lightly as being one of the leaders on my team this year. I feel very humbled and proud to be one of the captains. It’s always an honor to walk to the middle of the field at the start of a game, to take the coin toss for my team. And, to be a captain of the Ennis Lions has always been a dream of mine. Walking out there on the football field with my teammates and coaches beside me, is the best feeling in the world.”

He also adds, “The three best moments in my football career so far have been: (1) my first varsity minutes played as a linebacker — my sophomore year; (2) being with my team as we have rolled through the playoffs together (last year — 2019, and now — 2020); and (3) most importantly, being coached by some of the best coaches in Texas — while wearing the ‘Oval E’.”

Chapman’s position coach at EHS is Paul Willingham and he explains, “Payton Chapman is one of the most intelligent players I’ve coached in my 39 years on the job. He is like having a coach on the field, able to get his defensive teammates in the right position. He showed his courage and determination by coming back from a horrific injury last year. He worked extremely hard to get back to the player he is today. Payton comes from a great family and is a better person than he is a football player, which is saying a lot. He is going to be very successful in whatever career he chooses to pursue, as well as a extraordinary husband, father, and member of our community in the future.”

Early years in sports

The Chapman family didn’t always live in Ennis. In fact, Payton began his football career by playing flag football in Boerne, Texas (in the Hill Country of Texas) at the age of six.

He shares, “I especially loved that my dad was my coach. He gave me a lot of the love I have for sports today. I have always enjoyed the game of football, and in particular, the team aspect of it.”

When asked about “when” he realized that he was “good” at football, Chapman says, “As for being good, everyone has a different perspective of what being good is. Me — I just try to play my best in each game. That’s really all I can do.”

Family life in Ennis

The Chapmans relocated to the city of Ennis when Payton was in the fifth grade, in 2014. John Chapman, Payton’s father, is a Superintendent in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch I.S.D. His mother, Mandi Chapman, is also an educator. She is the special education coordinator in Ennis. Payton also has a brother who is a junior at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.

The youngest Chapman — Payton — states, “The Ennis community is so supportive of the high school, as well as the football program. Playing for the Lions has meant everything to me. To belong to such a great organization is hard to put into words.”

Chapman plans to go to college and get a great education. As for playing football on a scholarship, he explains that a few small to mid-sized colleges have contacted him so far. He confides, “At this point my future is all in God’s hands.”

He continues, “ I know I would have never been able to get this far in my football career without the many great coaches in my football journey. However, for the past three years, Coach Paul Willingham has molded me into the athlete I am and has taught me many life lessons, too. He is my all-time favorite coach because he has worked so hard with me to achieve a great deal of success in my position as the middle linebacker.”

Sadly, the Lions were up-ended surprisingly on Dec. 18 in the area playoff game against Mansfield Timberview, but what a super season for Chapman and his team, as they finished the year as Bi-District Champs.

One final thought by Chapman

In conclusion, when asked what has motivated him to be his best on the field, he simply says, “I love working together as a team. When we win, it drives me even harder. And, if one can’t already tell — I don’t like to lose at anything, and especially in the game of football!”

The tenacity and character of this fine young man will surely take him a long way in his future goals because of the life lessons he has learned while playing football for the Ennis Lions.