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The huddle

August 15, 2019

Former NFL Jaguar Donald Payne Interview

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Donald Payne is an American football linebacker. He is currently a free agent due to a knee injury.  He was placed on the injured list on October 25, 2018. He was off injured reserve on December 28, 2019. He initially was signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent after the 2017 NFL Draft. Payne played college ball at Stetson and was the first football player from Stetson to play in the NFL. Payne played five years of Division I football for Stetson University where he was a three-time FCS All-American as well as a three-time Conference Player of the Year.

Payne was able to share some beneficial advice to athletes who are looking to understand college athletics. 

LRT Sports: When did you realize that you wanted to play in college, and how did you know that you were good enough?

Payne: I’ve always wanted to play college football. I loved playing NCAA Football on Playstation during my childhood. I created myself in the game and had myself winning the Heisman, so it was a goal of mine for a long time. I knew my junior year that I could make it to the next level because my high school coaches told me that if I put my mind and more energy into this game that I could play at the next level.

LRT Sports: How would you describe how the recruiting process was for you? What was the most challenging part?

Payne: The recruiting process was very interesting to me. I did most of the work myself, sending my highlight tapes and letters to numerous colleges such as UGA, Florida, Louisville and even smaller colleges such as Georgia Southern and Troy. The only teams at the D1 level that offered me were Stetson, Mercer, and Grambling. The most challenging part was getting my name circulated because I went to a very small private school in Atlanta. If you’re not a big high school prospect, then the recruiting process can be very difficult for you and your family.

LRT Sports: Were your parents involved in your recruiting process, and if so, to what extent? 

Payne: My mom did the most she could in helping me get recruited. She was dedicated to my football life. However, college recruiting is something she did not have much knowledge of. My mom and I worked extremely hard in trying to get me recruited, but it was such a new process for us.

LRT Sports: How many coaches/schools were you in contact with before you committed?

Payne: I was in contact we with several schools such as Wofford, Penn, and NC A&T, who came to my high school practices to talk with me or had me come to their school for an official visit, however, they never officially offered me a scholarship. College coaches make a lot of promises to recruits that a lot of times don’t fall through. These schools had me thinking that I was going to be offered a scholarship, and then all of a sudden they stopped calling. Recruiting can dishearten you at times.

LRT Sports: When did you realize that you found the school that you wanted to commit to, and why did you choose that school?

Payne: My family and I took an official visit to Stetson, and we loved what they had to say. The opportunity to start a football program really caught my attention. I would be able to be a pioneer for the Stetson football program and become a leader from the start. Of course, I wanted to attend a big university, but I’ve realized that you don’t have to go to an SEC-like school to have a great career or even to get scouted by the NFL.

LRT Sports: Is there anything that you wish you knew when you were being recruited?

Payne:  I wish I would have known how cutthroat the recruiting process was going into it. One day a school would be calling you and then suddenly not hearing from them again, without an explanation. 

LRT Sports: What was the most challenging thing about being a Division I student-athlete and the most rewarding?

Payne  Being a student-athlete is a job. A job you love doing, but a job nonetheless. A true amount of dedication to your sport and your schoolwork is required to be a successful student-athlete truly. I’ve seen many teammates come and go out of the football program because so many could not deal with the dedication needed to be a college athlete. Free time is definitely not in abundance as a student-athlete.

LRT Sports: Being that you were a Division I student-athlete, what advice would you give any high school athlete going through the recruiting process right now?

Payne My advice would be to keep your options on colleges open at all times. I wanted to go to a big university like LSU and be on national TV all the time, but for most kids, that’s not the best option for you. I ended up at Stetson, and that was truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

LRT Sports :If LRT Sports was a resource back when you were being recruited would you have used the service? Would you have looked up coach ratings?

Payne: I definitely would have used them as a resource because there are so many things that my mother and I did not know about the recruiting process going into it. I believe the more knowledge you have about how colleges recruit and the overall process would make this difficult decision less stressful.

LRT Sports: What was the funniest or most memorable thing to happen to you on the field while in college?

Payne:  I’ve had so many crazy moments while on the football field but the Stetson vs. Campbell game my senior year in 2016 is the most memorable. The game was tied in overtime 24-24. Campbell was lined up to kick a field goal to take the lead. I told my teammate before the play that I was going to block this kick. I rushed off the edge, broke through a blocker, and blocked the kick. My teammate, Jeb Boudreaux, scooped the ball, ran it about 70 yards, cramped up and tossed me the ball on the 3-yard line. I finished it off and ran it in for a touchdown to win the game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sideline erupt like it did that night. Our coaches went crazy, our fans went crazy, and it was a great feeling to ruin Campbell’s homecoming. I was so ecstatic after the play that I lost my breath and literally almost passed out from all the excitement and yelling. The icing on the cake was that that play made it on ESPN Top 10 that following day as #3. That was the greatest play and game I have ever been a part of. Stetson 30 – Campbell 24.

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