Payne chose colon cancer awareness as his charity for the "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign. Photo by Donald Payne.

Overcoming Defeat: Donald Payne and How Hard Work Pays Off

February 17, 2018

Obstacle, according to the Webster dictionary, is “something that makes movement or progress difficult.”

Former Stetson Football player-turned-NFL pro Donald Payne has seen his fair share of obstacles.

Some might say that Donald Payne is as inspirational as I am lazy on Sunday mornings or when the dishes have to get done for the third day in a row.

Right now? The biggest accomplishment I’ve had this whole week was putting on my gym clothes and walking outside. I didn’t even go to the gym this week. I digress.

So here’s this guy, Payne, who literally worked his ass off for an entire year on a brand new team as a Freshman, not even playing a single game.

Head Football coach for Stetson, Roger Hughes said, “What got him to the NFL was obviously his performance here and the numbers he was able to generate nationally.”

I could throw you all of his stats, about how he made a record breaking 424 total tackles his 4 years at Stetson, or remind you that not only is he an All American on the field but an academic All American. Whoop dee doo. Stats are stats, and frankly Payne offers a lot more to the NFL than just his ability to produce impressive stats.

You might be wondering, what could possibly be more impressive? The fact is that Payne is more than just a football player, playing the role of son, student, friend, and leader. He integrated all components of his personality into a prosperous life.

“I guess the best way to say it is that he earned money the old fashioned way,” Hughes said, “he earned it and he earned every second of it and every dime he’s got.” The person — Payne and his existing morals — behind the success affected his gameplay, relationships, and character, whether he was on the field or not.

In other words, Payne wasn’t just good at football, he was smart and hardworking. An all around guy.


According to Hughes, Payne proved to recruiters that he “could learn the system very quickly,” which did its part in making him into the person he is today.

On January 22nd, the day after the Jaguars lost the NFL Conference Championships 20-24 against the Patriots, Payne tweeted, “The Craziest Part About This Season Is That Statistically I Wasn’t Suppose To Be Here. Attended a 1A private school, then went to Stetson, a non-scholarship school, fought and clawed just to be an UDFA. Finished AFC South Champs & Top 5 in the NFL Special Teams Tackles. #Blessed.”

If you know Stetson, you know that we are not known for our football. The Stetson official football website states says that in 2016, Stetson had a 2-9 record.

Translation? We have a lot of room for improvement.


Payne knows loss. He lost his father to colon cancer at the young age of 13 years old, and his grandfather to the same before his time. He and his brother were raised by their single mother.

Through the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign to bring awareness to various causes, Payne said, “I want to encourage others to fight the good fight. God gives his hardest battles to his toughest warriors.” So despite all of this, he managed to make it to the NFL from our team, the Stetson Hatters.

Come on son.

Despite experiencing hardship at an early age, Payne proved himself more than capable.

On campus, Payne was a star. For any celebrity, though, the limelight is a stressful path and position to fulfill. One could argue that because he attended a small liberal arts campus like Stetson, this role became even harder. The star player is never anonymous.


Previous safety for Stetson and now current linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Lucky enough to make it to the NCAA and even luckier to make it to the NFL.


None of Payne’s successes in life have been out of pure luck, but from exersizing strong devotion and persistant dedication.

“He’s first one in, last one out,” Hughes said., “Tthose are the types of things that you have to do when you’re an undrafted free agent to kinda prove yourself.”

It’s true though! Think about it. When was the last time you got a 100% on a test that you didn’t study for almost religiously? (Don’t be a smartass, even Einstein had to study.)

I never knew a coach who was so passionate about his players.

Choking back tears he said, “I would never give Donald credit for being profound, but in this case he was. He said, ‘I don’t work hard to prove people wrong, I work hard to prove to the people that believe in me that they’re right.’ I think that’s pretty cool.”

It’s an admirable quality, to be able utilize your obstacles to gain higher ground. Not only did Payne have to overcome the physical challenges a football player has to face on the field, but the psychological ones that awaited him off the field. I think it is important to recognize the struggles you face in order to appreciate the successes you achieve.

What does this mean?

Sure, the Jaguars didn’t make it to the 2018 Super Bowl, but that isn’t the point of this story.

Payne is a real person who represented Stetson in college and now Stetson after college. What he does directly affects us here on campus. When he wins, we celebrate. When he loses, we send him our encouragements.

As rapper Kendrick Lamar would put it, “When shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?” In other words, despite the Jaguars’ recent loss, it is important to remember the obstacles Payne overcame to get there, and the many more obstacles he will continue to overcome in the future.

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