With 23 scholarship offers and a state championship under his belt, Hugh M. Cummings High School junior and running back Jonathan Paylor has emerged as the second-best player in North Carolina and 34th-best in the country for the Class of 2024. 

The four-star athlete faces opposition each day in practice and games, but Paylor said some of his life's biggest challenges have come off of the football field. 

Years before Paylor was scouted by football powerhouses such as Clemson and Alabama, he and his mother decided it would be best for him to move in with his former middle school football coach, Bernard Pinnix. 

“I built a strong relationship with him since middle school, I was with him everyday,” Paylor said. “We did bowling, different types of locations to workouts just to get out, and everything, such as going to the mall, shopping around. Over time we have built this relationship.” 

This decision came after Pinnix approached Paylor’s mother and said he didn’t like the influences that he saw around him.

“Once I started training Jon and dealing with Jon and just watching him as a young man, I saw a need,” Pinnix said. “What made me see the need was I would see a lot of stuff around him that I particularly didn’t like.” 

Growing up, Paylor said he never had a true father figure. His mom raised Paylor and four other children on her own. Since Pinnix stepped in, Jonathan said he’s become more than just a coach — he's a father.

“He means everything to me, does everything a coach and father should do, and I really appreciate him for everything,” Paylor said.

In the years since, they’ve only gotten closer. Paylor said he and Pinnix spend most of their days together. 

“We would go to different gyms, so when he got back, it might be 9:30 or 10. All he could do was eat. If he had a lesson to learn, we would get back earlier. All he could do was eat and go to bed, and then the next morning, he would go to school, so we did that for a long time,” Pinnix said. “It kept him away from a lot of those kids because he was always with me.” 

Pinnix was not the first coach to support and mentor Paylor. One of his former coaches, Connell Graham, also helped raise Paylor. Graham died in July 2021. Paylor said Graham meant so much to him and he now plays in honor of him. Paylor said words can’t describe the relationship they had. 

“He’s a guy where if you have a conversation with him, he will change your whole perspective of life, and being with him was just a role model to me because he actually raised me also as a player and a son,” Paylor said. “I really can’t explain what he has done in my life because it’s a lot of things in life that I can't gather.” 

While Paylor is the one scoring the touchdowns, his coaches are helping him score opportunities and connections that will last a lifetime. Cummings head coach David Grimm said Paylor has a strong work ethic and is proud of the man he has become.

“He’s developing into a leader, something he wasn’t earlier on but that just comes with maturity and he’s filling that role nicely,” Grimm said. “He's just a hard working football player and he deserves everything that he’s getting.”