Hungary for football

Wilson’s Payton travels to Budapest to coach football

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Wilson native Dedrick Payton has coached football at several different levels for nearly the past two decades, but he never dreamed it would take him halfway around the world.

Payton, known nearly to all as “Cisco,” recently got that chance when he traveled to Hungary last month to serve in an advisory role to the Budapest Cowbells of the Hungarian Football League. What he discovered in the Eastern European city was a familiar sight.

“Football is football, no matter where you are,” Payton said. “They have the talent, they’re very organized. There’s some good kids who can play ball.”

The 1993 Beddingfield High graduate and former Bruins player founded the East Carolina Rams, now a member of the semi-professional National Development Football League. His brother, Michael Smith, works at the U.S. embassy in Budapest and is a player/coach for the Cowbells. Payton’s Rams won back-to-back championships in the United Coastal Football League in 2015 and 2016 before the UCFL merged with the NDFL.

Once Smith informed Budapest head coach Karim Trabelisi of his brother’s success coaching semi-pro football in the States, Trabelisi “got excited and wanted me to come over,” Payton said.

The HFL operates much in the same manner as the NDFL, a thriving semi-pro league based in Atlanta that has 35 teams this spring.

The Cowbells footed the bill for Payton’s airfare, lodging and meals during his nine-day stay in March. Payton, who had never been to that part of the world, was pleasantly surprised at what he saw.

“Soccer is the main sport, but football is growing,” Payton said. “You’ve got a lot of community support and great organization. Games are live-streamed on TV.”

One rule of the eight-team HFL is that only two foreign players, or imports, per team are allowed on the field at the same time.

“So they import players from the U.S. and some are paid,” Payton said. “Their housing and food and transportation is taken care of by the teams.”

Teams can have as many imports as they can afford but the majority of the HFL players are Hungarian, Payton said.

The Cowbells were formed in 2013 by the merger of the Budapest Cowboys (the first Hungarian football team) and the Ujbuda Rebels. The Cowbells reached the HFL championship game, or Hungarian Bowl, last year, where they lost 19-16 to the Miskoic Steelers.

While he was in Budapest, Payton got to see the Cowbells take on the Steelers in a rematch. While there may be a tendency to think that Eastern European semi-pro football might look more like college football from the 1920s with single-wing offenses, leather helmets and 6-0 final scores, Payton said that was not the case at all.

“They are keeping up with the times. I was surprised,” he said, noting the implementation of zone reads, spread concepts and air-raid systems.

“The game that I saw was a rematch of last year’s championship game and they both run spreads and the same concepts we run here in the United States,” said Payton.

He also marveled over the size and ability of the Hungarian-born players.

“A lot of them played soccer but they looked like football players,” he said. “They are huge and athletic and smart.”

While semi-pro leagues are beginning to sprout up in European countries, Payton said most of the players are striving to land on a team in the German Football League, considered the top American football league in Europe.

Payton, who works as the in-school suspension teacher at Beddingfield, has previously served on the Bruins coaching staff under Tyrone Johnson, who is retiring at the end of the school year. Payton, who coached wrestling at Beddingfield, spent this past football season on the staff at Greene Central but will return to Beddingfield’s staff next fall as an assistant. He previously coached at Darden Middle and started a youth program, the Beddingfield Cubs, several years ago.

The East Carolina Rams have taken up much of his coaching focus in the winter and spring the last six years. Payton said he had no idea his experience as the Rams coach would lead him to Budapest.

“I was blown away. I never thought this semi-pro team here would open doors for me,” he said.

During his time in Hungary, he was able to visit some old castles and a few “huge churches” as well as sample some of the local cuisine.

“Steaks!” he said when asked what was the best food he ate. “The steaks over there were crazy!”

Payton, who said he was invited to come back each season, said he returned home with a new appreciation for coaching football.

“This is tops,” he said. “I really appreciated the opportunity and a blessing to go over there and coach.”

paul@wilsontimes.com | 265-7808