High school football: Payton Salomon posts remarkable stats, leads Lemont to consecutive deep playoff runs

Growing up, Payton Salomon cycled from sport to sport, going from football to wrestling to baseball.

The Lemont senior stopped playing baseball in seventh grade but remained a two-sport athlete into high school.

Like everyone else in Illinois, his rhythm was thrown off by the COVID pandemic. Football and wrestling overlapped as the IHSA tried to squeeze in at least a semblance of a season for every sport at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

Football was always No. 1 for Salomon, and that year it became the only one.

“I hurt my shoulder and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna back off now. Now it’s only football,'” he said.

The injury was to his right (throwing) shoulder.

“That’s why it spooked me a little bit,” he said. “You know, it’s like, what’s more important to me, football or wrestling? Obviously it’s football.”

The proof is in the numbers. The 6-foot, 175-pounder has put up some remarkable stats in his two seasons as Lemont’s starting quarterback. For last season’s 11-1 team that was eliminated by powerhouse East St. Louis in the Class 6A quarterfinals, Salomon completed 70% of his passes for 1,753 yards with 31 touchdowns and only one interception.

That team also featured Albert Kunickis, a powerful running back with an inspiring back story (he was born with a right arm that ends at the elbow). Opposing defenses no longer have to account for Kunickis, who is a preferred walk-on at Northwestern.

But with more of the focus on him this season, Salomon has been even better for 11-0 Lemont. His completion rate is up to 80% and he’s thrown for 2,416 yards and 36 touchdowns with one interception. Yes, over two seasons, he’s completed 75% of his passes for 4,169 yards, 67 TDs and two interceptions.

The important thing to note, according to Lemont coach Bret Kooi, is that Salomon isn’t just throwing five-yard quick hits.

“When you’re throwing the ball down the field a little bit more and he’s still able to maintain at that 80% [completion rate] ,.. that’s pretty astonishing, especially for a high school kid,” Kooi said.

Salomon’s leadership isn’t just limited to the stat sheet.

“He’s just full of energy non-stop,” Kooi said. “If you watch him during a game and somebody scores, whether it’s a running back, whether it’s a receiver, he’s the first one there [to celebrate]. Those are the things you want to see out of your quarterback — [he] wants everybody else on the field to be successful.”

Salomon has had some recruiting interest from FCS and Division II schools, but is focusing only on what’s in front of him: Saturday’s 6A quarterfinal at home against Kenwood.

“You can only control the controllables,” he said of recruiting. I gotta put myself in the best position to succeed and these guys” — he gestures to his teammates — “they helped me do that.”

Kooi envisions a bright future for his quarterback.

“Somebody’s gonna grab him and then see all the things I’ve been talking about,” Kooi said. “Especially the leadership aspect of it. He’s the same guy off the field. He’s the first guy in any type of drill you do, weight room-wise, speed-wise. And he’s not the fastest. not the strongest. But he’s the guy that’s getting it done all the time.”

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