Lakeland golf standout selects Jackson St.

Published 9:56 pm Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lakeland senior Ben Hunter accepted a scholarship offer to play golf at Jackson State University, signing the official paperwork on Tuesday at Lakeland High.

Hunter, who’s been the Cavaliers’ top golfer and one of the best in the region, since his freshman year, will become part of one of the top collegiate golf programs in the nation and play for one of the most-honored coaches in collegiate golf.

Jackson St. won its 21st Southwestern Athletic Conference golf championship two weeks ago. Twenty of those titles have come in the 21-year tenure of Eddie Payton as coach of the Tigers.

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“Jackson State has a really good program,” said Hunter, “their coach has shown a lot of interest in me.”

“There were a lot of options for me, but I think coach Payton is the right guy to get me where I need to go,” said Hunter.

In his 21 years heading Jackson St. golf, Payton has been the SWAC’s Coach of the Year 18 times and the National Minority Coach of the Year eight years. Jackson State has won 13 of the last 18 National Minority Championships.

In 1995-96, the Tigers became the first golf team from a Historically Black College to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. This season’s Jackson St. team will play in the NCAA Regional Tournament May 14-16.

Payton is the older brother of the late Walter Payton. Eddie is a Jackson St. graduate, played football for the Tigers, then had a five-year NFL career.

Payton is also the head coach of the women’s golf team at Jackson St. His women’s teams have won 10 conference titles and Jackson St. was also the first women’s team from an HBCU to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Hunter thanked his parents, Benford and Paquita, after making the acceptance official Tuesday.

“They’re very excited for me, and I’m just happy I could be successful for them because they’ve really helped me along the way,” said Hunter, who plans on majoring in physical therapy.

Another source of major support, going back almost as far back as Ben’s parents, is Gregory Hunt, who’s coached Ben since he was four years old.

“He’s also given me a lot to be in position to be successful,” said Hunter.

“Whenever I need help with my swing, he’s there to help me. Really, he’s been my golfing mentor since I was little.”

“I feel I fit in really well with (Jackson State) and it’s important to me that I’m going somewhere I fit in. I think I’ll be able to go there and make the program better,” said Hunter.