WASHINGTON, Pa. — Four years ago, Payton Skalos just wasn't ready to say goodbye.
Now he has to.
The Seneca Valley graduate and wide receiver recently wrapped up his football career at Washington & Jefferson College, catching 54 passes for 564 yards and six touchdowns for the Presidents.
“Unfortunately, this is it for me,” Skalos said of football. “What I'll miss the most is all of the friendships that were created through playing.
“You come in (freshman year) and don't know anybody. Then you're practicing with these guys five days a week, having team dinners with them, hanging out with them ... I've gained so many relationships that will last a long time.
“Some of these guys will wind up being in my wedding someday ... that kind of stuff,” Skalos added.
Maybe that's why Skalos couldn't bring himself to call it a career after playing his senior season at Seneca Valley. He caught 63 passes for 734 yards and nine touchdowns that year, including the Raiders' lone score in a 42-7 WPIAL championship loss to Central Catholic at Heinz Field.
Skalos considered attending Ohio University for his studies, without playing football. He also had the chance to play at W&J.
“Two days before they started camp, I decided to go to W&J,” he said. “A lot of my buddies from high school were going on to college ball as freshmen. I couldn't give it up.”
W&J coach Mike Sirianni said he recruited Skalos hard in high school.
“But when we talked to him after that WPIAL championship game, and he had such a great game that night, he told us he was probably just gonna go to school,” the coach said.
“When he called our recruiting coordinator two days before camp asking if we had a spot for him ... heck, yeah, we had a spot.”
“They have such a winning culture at W&J,” Skalos said. “That's what I wanted to be a part of.”
He turned out being a big part of it.
Skalos played in 26 games for the Presidents and was a three-year starter. One of those seasons was the 2020 “COVID” year in which he caught 20 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns in just four games. Skalos was second team All-Presidents' Athletic Conference that season.
During his time in the lineup, the Presidents won 19 games and lost only seven. They were 8-3 this season.
At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Skalos was a slot receiver, a possession-type guy who consistently made catches for first downs — while paying a price.
“I went over the middle a lot,” he said. “I got popped a few times, a little banged up, but never enough to leave the game. And I never missed a game.”
Sirianni described Skalos as “tenacious” and admired his toughness.
“Man, he was super tough, Western Pennsylvania tough,” he said. “We ran jet sweeps with him, bubble screens where he had to dodge linemen and linebackers ... that kid had no fear.
“He took some pops, but would always bounce right back up off the turf.”
Skalos compiled 134 receptions for 1,581 yards and 15 touchdowns in his college career. His best day was against Westminster his junior year, when he caught 16 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown.
He was a team leader this season as well.
“Payton's leadership skills were outstanding,” Sirianni said. “He was an uplifting teammate. We had to play a young quarterback at times this year and he'd put his arm around him, be encouraging. He did that with a lot of our younger guys.
“As coaches, we stress positivity, fighting through adversity. Payton was great at that. We're gonna miss him. He had a tremendous career here.”
A business administration major at W&J, Skalos is ready to move on in life.
“I should graduate in December, then it's all about finding a good job,” he said.
In the meantime, football gave him a lot of good memories.
“I'll miss everything about my team,” Skalos said. “Those guys are my brothers.”