PLEASANT GROVE — Like most top athletes, it's dedication and uncommon drive that lifted Payton Henry to the point where he's at currently.
After completion of a stellar prep career, the Pleasant Grove star will await his fate in the Major League Baseball draft that started on Thursday. He'll do so while weighing the decision whether to turn pro immediately or to go on and play for BYU, the program which he's already signed with.
"I can't make a bad decision. It's really a blessing to be where I'm at right now and something I've worked hard for," Henry said.
If Henry's baseball career follows form, he could very well exceed draft expectations, and if not, it shouldn't surprise anyone should be become a big-time contributor sooner rather than later for the Cougar program. It's a course the 6-foot-3 catcher/pitcher prospect has taken ever since he started to seriously contemplate his athletic future as a seventh-grader.
Henry remembers the decision he made very well. As a young middle-schooler he was already showing well in several sports — most notably perhaps baseball and wrestling, following a superb family heritage in both sports. Henry's grandfather, Darold Henry, served as a legendary wrestling coach for the Vikings, while his father, Darrin Henry, grew up a star on the Vikings' baseball diamond before going on to become the program's head coach.
"I remember sitting in class and wondering if I'd ever be a stud in baseball or any other sport," Payton recalls. "I had the mindset right there that it was going to be baseball and I really dedicated myself from that time on to up my game and to make sure, when I was a freshman, that I'd have a chance to play varsity."
Good decision, turns out.
Payton started to put in the work in earnest from that point on, working out with his father on a consistent basis.
"I'd hit with my father every day and since he was the coach at Pleasant Grove, I'd go to practices with him and play with the high school kids," Payton said. "I did as much as possible to improve, and it really helped me."
While most seventh-graders would feel a bit intimidated playing with varsity players, Payton wasn't among the majority. He'd consistently impress the varsity team players, to the point where they actually encouraged coaches to insert him into the lineup during a memorable scrimmage over the fall at BYU.
"Players were wanting me to let him bat in the last inning," Darrin Henry recalled. "I didn't really want to do it, and the pitcher they had out there was throwing about 91 and 92 (miles per hour), but I decided to do it."
What ensued was Payton calmly lining a pitch for a single.
"He wasn't intimidated and he's never intimidated in those situations. He's become used to playing against older guys, and it's really helped him," Darrin Henry said.
Payton went on to assume an immediate role on the varsity team as a freshman before progressing toward his junior season, a season he feels was his breakout year. During that junior year he hit for a .527 average while proving to be a premier closer out of the bullpen.
Darrin Henry cites his best memory of Payton watching him close out Pleasant Grove's 2015 championship by pitching the final two innings in a 6-2 win over Bingham. Payton also went 4-4 from the plate that day with two RBIs in what proved to be a redemptive game.
Just one year earlier, it was Payton providing the final out in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Jordan in their 5A state championships. For that final out, Payton came within inches of hitting the ball over the wall and playing the hero for the Vikings.
"He came up six inches short and he worked hard to never let that happen again," Darrin Henry said. "He was reminded of it constantly and he just kept his head up and was able to come through in a big way the following year. It's a memory I'll always cherish as a father and as his coach."
Following that junior year Payton began to get a swarm of college and pro attention from recruiters and scouts. He originally committed to sign with UNLV before switching his decision to BYU.
"It was great getting that attention and it motivated me even more to become the best player in the state, if not the best in the country. It was a stepping stool moment for me," Payton said. "It was a weight off my shoulders getting that first offer, but also more weight with me knowing I still needed to get that much better."
Payton went on to hit .519 his senior year while maintaining exceptional power from the plate and from the mound.
"I feel I improved, but it was a bit of a disappointing year because we didn't repeat as champions," Payton said. "We had a team good enough to do it, but we just fell short, so that was disappointing."
Looking forward to his future, Payton could very well pitch or catch at the collegiate or professional level, but is marketing himself as a catcher.
"I grew up catching and it's what I love most," Payton said. "I didn't start pitching until later, but it was catching what I've always done and what I want to keep on doing. But it's nice to have a plan B if catching doesn't work out for me."
As for being named Mr. Baseball for the state, it was another goal well in mind throughout the process.
"It's a huge honor and it's a great honor to be named after my teammate and good friend, Easton Walker, won it last year," Payton said. "With me doing the same things — it's just awesome because I look up to him so much."
Others looked up to would include his father, first and foremost, but also his mother, Joy, and his grandparents, Darold and Bel.
"They're at every game cheering me on and I couldn't be here without any of their support," Payton said. "They're who I owe it all to."