Donald Payne: From Stetson Hatter to NFL Starter

Josh Miller, Sports Staff

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        Former Hatter Donald Payne was not used to being in the spotlight. Growing up in Fayetteville, Georgia, Payne attended a small high school named Landmark Christian. After posting impressive high school seasons, Payne found himself committed to Stetson University to continue his football career. 

        In his 4 seasons at Stetson, Payne quietly dominated on the field. He finished his college career a 3x All-American Safety, finishing third all-time in the FCS and FBS in tackles (538), as well as being named PFL conference player of the week a record-breaking 8 times.

        After 4 outstanding years, Payne found himself bouncing around different NFL teams as a special teams player. In fact, for the first half of the 2019 NFL season, Payne was not on an NFL team. Instead, he was sitting on his couch at home in Georgia. Around week 9 of the NFL season he received a call from the Jacksonville Jaguars telling him that they would be signing him as a free agent. 

        A couple of games and injuries to the team later, Payne found himself starting the last 5 games at Middle Linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and is now definitely in the spotlight. 

        “It’s been a whirlwind of emotions; a month and a half ago, I was at my house just sitting on the couch,” Payne said. “To be in this position is truly a blessing.” 

        Payne had only ten defensive snaps coming into his first NFL start in the December 1st game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

        “First time I ever got to suit up and actually play defense, I definitely had a different week of preparation… [M]y preparation is what got me to this opportunity.” That preparation led to a great game for the Jaguars’ defense, in which he led the team with 13 total tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 sack on Buccaneers QB Jamies Winston.

        In the next four starts, Payne continued to dominate for the Jaguars’ defense. He posted 58 total tackles in his 5 starts, with 57 of those tackles coming in 4 games, which was the most in the NFL during that time frame. 

      Payne certainly showed he belongs in the NFL spotlight. Though he’s waiting to hear back from the Jaguars to see if he will be resigned this offseason, in the meantime Payne will look to get healthy and continue to train and improve his game for the 2020 NFL season.