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Playing for Payton

Nov. 14, 2013

By @ScottKotick and Heath Belser

Payton Poulin is living the dream- spending every afternoon watching his beloved Seminoles. A freshman at Florida State University and a Seminole fan since childhood - Payton was determined to make an impact on the FSU Football team. Destiny provided a door as Payton shared a class with wide receiver Kenny Shaw and the two formed an instant friendship. 

"Payton was a big Florida State fan and he just wanted to be part of the team," Kenny Shaw said. "I took that into my hands and basically just told him to come out to practice and come be part of the brotherhood we've got."

"During practice he's always right behind me when I'm calling plays, and when I get to complaining about something I'll turn around and ask him what he thinks," Jimbo Fisher said. "He's very much a part of our team. He's upbeat, always got a smile on his face, always laughing, always energetic, and he's always happy to be out there at practice. He raises my spirits every day I see him."

"I was talking to him on the sideline one day, and just to get a laugh out of him, I was talking to Rashad (Greene)," Telvin Smith said. "'Who's your favorite player on the team?' And he said 'the Seminoles.' That just shows that he doesn't look at us as those players or anything like that, he's a part of this team and that's how we've accepted him. I think that's why we like him being out there so much and being around the team and things like that."

"Football is my passion, and I love seeing the team that I care about the most, they are winning," Payton Poulin said. "That makes me the happiest guy in the world."

He has always wanted to be a Seminole: to be part of the team he adores and to be there every step of the way with his heroes. But the journey to Tallahassee has been anything but simple.

At a young age, Payton developed schizencephaly, a physical disability similar to cerebral palsy that impacts his ability to speak and have normal motor skills that most people take for granted. It was something his family never imagined could happen.

"The doctors told us that Payton wasn't going to be able to walk, that he might die at a certain age" Patrick Poulin said. "That he might not ever be able to do anything. We had a lot of really bad reports about Payton, that he wouldn't be able to do a lot of stuff. That he might be a vegetable or die at an early age."

"We didn't want to believe it when they told us, we were like 'it has to do with the brain, anything is possible with the brain, they don't' know everything about it,'" Retina Poulin said. "We stuck with that. Through those first two years, they said he's fine, he's development delayed. Then all of a sudden, they said he had schizencephaly, he's not going to do what you expect him to do."

"It is one of the most hurtful things you can experience as a parent when a child is having a seizure, you can't stop it," Patrick Poulin said. "It really hurts from everything inside of you and thank God Payton doesn't have any more seizures."

"I am not supposed to be here. When I was three years old, the doctors said that I would be in bed the rest of my life," Payton Poulin said. "They said that I would not be able to know my own name."

He excelled at Harmony High School in St. Cloud, Florida, from becoming a star chess player, to being named prom king, and making an impact as a member of the high school football team. But as high school progressed, the physical limitations became an ever present reality. If he wanted to accomplish his goal of getting to Florida State, he had to make a decision to choose one dream over another.

"He had to take a choice to either stay in school and work hard or take a couple years off of school to be able to walk," Patrick Poulin said. "And Payton chose school over that, and that is a really hard thing to talk about. We all sat down and it was a big decision. You get a couple years of physical therapy, you're going to have to take off of school and you're just going to have to focus on that, you can't focus on school. Payton made the decision to focus on school and focus on his dream."

"For him to strive through the academics to get into Florida State when it takes so much for a kid to get there, but he had the determination and the drive that he wasn't going to take no for an answer," Danielle Curry said. "I just wish there were so many people out there that could see the struggles he's overcome."

"Now I'm here at Florida State University, this is my dream school," Payton Poulin said. "I am going to keep going and I am not going to stop."

"'I want to go to college, I want to make you proud, I want to make Grandma proud, I'm going to make everybody proud'" Patrick Poulin said. "And he did, our dream, my father's dream, my dream to go to Florida State. I could still go to Florida State and being the father of Payton, I know it's not too late. I can't sit here and say it's too late for me to go to Florida State because all things are possible, Payton taught me that."

When it came time to graduate from Harmony High, Payton knew he needed to overcome one final obstacle. He wanted to receive his diploma like every other high school student.

To have the determination to walk across the stage and receive what he earned after years of struggle.

"When he took that first step, I don't even remember holding him," Danielle Curry said. "My hands were just there to be a support to him like he has been to be all these years. He just took off on his own and we got the chair, and when I got back and sat down, that's when I said 'that just happened.'"

"I was on my feet, everyone else was," Steve Landrum said. "In 44 years of teaching, without a doubt the most outstanding graduation I've ever been a part of because of Payton."

"It felt really overwhelming to see it and everybody in the whole arena was crying and shouting for him because they knew him," Retina Poulin said. "Nobody expected him to do that and it was just very overwhelming."

"It's unimaginable that he would make it this far," Patrick Poulin said. "You always think that there's going to be this roadblock or this that's going to happen for some reason because something bad seems to happen all the time and you have to fight for everything in this world now a days, but he did it and he did it all on his own."

And it's been an inspiration to Florida State's coaches and student-athletes. To see a young man that will never stop, regardless of any limitation.

"The times that you feel sorry for yourself, the things that other people go through, and we all do it, we all complain about our everyday lives," Jimbo Fisher said. "This, that, and the other, and how bad it is. There's always someone out there who has a different circumstance, but to watch him do it with such a smile on his face and have such a great attitude, I think it puts things in perspective for those guys and makes them appreciate what they do have."

"He just shows you to take advantage of the fact that you're out here and love and embrace the fact that you're out here," Telvin Smith said. "The fact that we can touch him and the fact that he's been through so much and he could be down about anything, but he wants to come out here and interact with us. That just shows you to keep going, whatever you're' going through, push through it. It can only get better in any situation."

"For a guy to still be living and still be upbeat like that, he's way more than football and life is way more than football," Kenny Shaw said. "There's way more to it and Payton is that."

"I never stop, that's who I am, I have a big heart," Payton Poulin said. "I try to implement that into my everyday life, and hopefully the players see that and they try to do the same thing that I do."

"When you go out there on that field and when we're in the locker room, you think about him and say let's go out there and play harder," Telvin Smith said. "Not for ourselves and not because we want to be national champions, but because we have somebody depending on us. That brings joy to him and just a small part of his life that makes it greater."

"They mean everything to me, just seeing them every day out there, they make me feel like they're my brothers now," Payton Poulin said.

And it's become even more. Payton is not only a part of the Florida State family, he's a symbol of hope. Of what it means to persevere against all odds and overcome the impossible.

"One of the goals that I have is that one day, I want to be able to walk," Payton Poulin said. "I want to be able to get out of this thing and I want to be able to walk around."

"It's amazing what people can overcome and the first thing is a mindset and an attitude," Jimbo Fisher said. "When you have the one that he has, it would not surprise me one bit to watch him get up out of that wheelchair one day and walk. That's just the kind of guy he is and the person he is, and when you're around him, you understand that."

"I would never say anything about Payton's limitations, because I don't there are any," Steve Landram said. "He's convinced himself and he convinced me."

"Payton surprises everybody and he surprises life," Retina Poulin said.

"If he's provided his way to get him onto the football team and have this position that he does just being there and being around the team, I'm sure God's got a purpose and a plan for him to get out of that chair too," Patrick Poulin said. "I hope Florida State's a part of it because it's going to be awesome."

Special Thanks: The Poulin Family, Danielle Curry, Kerwin Lonzo, Zach Stipe, Jerry Tootle, and Mark Robinson

Watch the complete show on Seminole Sports Magazine on SunSports at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 16th. Check your local listings.

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