Leonard Payton signs with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League

It has often been argued that Leonard Payton was the greatest offensive lineman in the short history of Jacksonville University.

Now there is no question as the Jacksonville-native has signed to play with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. He becomes the third Dolphin to play professionally, joining Micah Ross and Linj Shell in an elite group.

“We’re excited for Leonard and this tremendous opportunity to continue his career in the CFL,” said JU head coach Kerwin Bell. “Leonard has been a rock for us throughout his career, anchoring our offensive line. While they are often overlooked, our line has been a big part of our success the past few years and Leonard has been the star of that group.”

The Sandalwood High School product is a two-time all-PFL selection and has been a big part of history at JU.

A four-year starter at JU, Payton started all 46 games in his career – leading the Dolphins to two Pioneer Football League titles, the program’s first top 25 ranking and their first 10-win season.

This past season, Payton was a unanimous first team all-PFL selection, opening holes for the running backs and protecting the passer for the nation’s most prolific offense – averaging more than 420 yards per game.

He will earn his degree from JU in marketing this December.

CHAMPIONSHIP CELEBRATION TONIGHT: The JU football team will celebrate its record-setting 2010 season on April 21 at the Jacksonville Landing with the presentation of the championship rings, followed by the annual JU football golf tournament on April 22 at the Ponte Vedra Country Club.

The Dolphins rolled up a program-best 10-1 record, going 8-0 in the Pioneer Football League to win their second conference title in the last three years. Topping it off, Jacksonville was ranked in the top 25 for the first time in program history and stayed there for the second half of the season – finishing the year ranked 21st.

The championship celebration will start at 7 p.m. at the Landing, with JU head coach Kerwin Bell presenting the Dolphins with their championship rings as well as a highlight video recapping the title run.