TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nearly four years after he first carved out a special place for himself on the Florida State football team, Payton Poulin is still inspiring the Seminoles.
Poulin, the FSU student who, despite living with the neurological disorder schizencephaly, became a fixture on the Seminoles’ sidelines in 2013 and 2014, will graduate on Saturday. He will participate in commencement ceremonies and, as he did before the 2015 Rose Bowl, he intends to stand up from his motorized wheelchair and walk across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree from the FSU College of Business.
“The last four years I’ve been able to live out my dream,” Poulin said. “It’s been incredible to be a part of, not only the team but the family. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”
The feeling is mutual among Florida State’s players and coaches.
“(Payton) just makes you appreciate the real things in life,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.
A native of St. Cloud, Fla., Poulin has loved all things football and Florida State for as long as he can remember.
And when he spotted FSU receiver Kenny Shaw in one of his classes in the fall of 2013, Poulin knew he had to introduce himself.
Poulin, though, didn’t just want a picture or an autograph. He wanted to make an impact on the team.
“I saw a kid who wanted to be a part of something,” said Shaw, now with the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League. “I reached out to the coaches and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a guest coming, a classmate, and he wants to be a part of the team. And Payton showed up on time. I gave him a time and he was there.
“The security guard almost turned him around, and I was like, ‘He’s good.’ And he just rolled in with me. Ever since then, it’s been such a bond.”
From there, Poulin was a regular on the Florida State practice fields, where he made himself at home by encouraging players after a tough day or joking with them when they needed a little levity.
After a while, Poulin even got comfortable enough to show off the football strategy chops he’d been honing since childhood.
“He was making the calls and stuff,” Shaw said. “I thought he was going to be a coach after a while.”
The next few years were loaded with memories that Poulin says will last a lifetime.
Asked for a favorite, Poulin laughed and said, “Oh man, I have to think about that.”
There are plenty from which to choose.
When the Seminoles rallied to beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, Poulin was there in Pasadena, Calif., along with his father, Patrick.
“It was the happiest moment of our lives,” Patrick Poulin said.
And Poulin became a national sensation a year later, when he surprised the Seminoles by standing up from his wheelchair and, with the help of Jameis Winston and DeMarcus Walker, walking several yards after a practice before the Rose Bowl.
Video of the scene went viral on social media and aired on ESPN’s SportsCenter that night.
“It was truly tremendous,” Patrick Poulin said. “And I hope that same feeling that I had that day, I have on Saturday.”
Poulin’s time as an FSU student may be over, but he still has goals to work toward.
With his degree in hand, Poulin intends to enter the professional world and start his own business.
More practically, he and his family are working to raise money for a stand-up wheelchair, as well as funds for stem-cell therapy and a van retrofitted with modifications that would allow Poulin to drive.
Fans and friends wishing to support that cause can donate to Poulin’s GoFundMe page.
Finally, Poulin hasn’t lost sight of his biggest goal: to one day walk on his own.
He’s not there yet. But when he walks across the stage Saturday with the aid of his father and a family friend, Poulin will once again show the Florida State community the resolve and dedication that so endeared him to the Seminoles’ football team.
“I’m very proud of him,” Shaw said. “Graduating and walking across that stage is not something a lot of people can say they did. To see Payton push through all his adversity and get that degree, it’s special.”