Bringing The Payne

FAYETTEVILLE -- Kevin Payne's toughest task this week isn't getting ready to face the Arkansas defense.

It's trying to find tickets for all his friends and family from Junction City.

The 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore tailback for Louisiana-Monroe and fellow Arkansan teammates Chris Harris and James Jaron from Little Rock have been hitting up the rest of the Indians all week leading up to their game against the Razorbacks Saturday night in War Memorial Stadium.

"I'm doing my best," Payne said, laughing. "Chris Harris got most of them, but I'm trying to do my best. I've got a little family coming, so I'm still working on it.

"It's like being on a waiting list."

The Arkansas-ULM game is a being counted as a home game for the Indians in a scheduling agreement with the University of Arkansas, but it will also be a bit of a homecoming for the three Monroe players.

Harris, of J.A. Fair High in Little Rock, is the Indians' starting free safety, Jaron, from Little Rock Hall, is a back-up cornerback and Payne was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2003 after piling up 1,466 yards of offense rushing and receiving.

He rushed for 976 yards and 6 touchdowns on 248 attempts (3.9 average) and caught 41 passes for 488 yards and 3 more scores.

His 81.3 yards-per-game average ranked fifth among all freshmen in the NCAA and was third in the Sun Belt.

The Indians went just 1-11 in 2003, losing six games by a touchdown or less, with their lone win coming against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Payne had 144 yards rushing and 28 receiving in the 45-42 win and Ragin' Cajuns coach Ricky Bustle said Arkansas could have its hands full.

"Payne is a heck of a player and I think they'll give Arkansas some problems," Bustle said. "He's a double threat. Any time you play guys like that, you better be in your run lanes. That guy can give any defense trouble."

Payne enjoyed his success under first-year coach Charlie Weatherbie, who took over three months after Payne signed with the Indians.

It was an easy fit from the start, said Payne, who made the most of a shallow depth chart at tailback to get on the field quickly.

"The coaches let us know what they want," Payne said. "They want to win, we want to win. We don't have time for anything else."

Payne flourished within Weatherbie's system earning nearly 300 touches and four 100-yard rushing games in his first college season.

His first game was against eventual national champion LSU and he had 104 yards of offense (64 rushing, 40 receiving) and scored the Indians' only touchdown on a 12-yard run.

Against the North Texas defense that held Arkansas nearly 100 yards below its rushing average last year in Little Rock, Payne had 181 yards of total offense (105 receiving, 76 rushing) in the Indians' 28-26 loss to the three-time Sun Belt champions.

"I knew I had great things ahead of me," he said. "I'm just trying to stay focused and work hard. Good things came of it."

The Indians lost 44-41 to Arkansas State in Little Rock last year, so the Indians have a feel for what their reception will be like Saturday.

Payne always made the Arkansas-LSU game growing up, but he hasn't had to tell any of his teammates much about the rowdy atmosphere in War Memorial.

"I'm pretty sure they know," Payne said. "It's in Arkansas, so we'll expect it. We have loudspeakers on at practice to simulate a loud crowd."

Payne rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior in 2002 for Junction City to earn AA All-District and All-State honors.

He was recruited by every in-state school except the Razorbacks, but settled on ULM because of its proximity to his hometown.

The fact Arkansas didn't recruit him doesn't bother Payne at all.

"I wasn't disappointed," he said. "If you're from Arkansas, as a kid you want to play for Arkansas just like if you're from Louisiana, every kid wants to play for LSU. But that's part of the business. I wasn't sad or anything.

"I just wanted the opportunity to play college ball and I took advantage of it."

Indians running backs coach Junior Smith calls Payne "the complete package" with a combination of size, speed and hands.

Even though Payne is the top returning rusher and receiver for the Indians, he doesn't feel the weight of carrying the load in a multiple offense.

"I'm a little more of a finesse back," he said. "I've got quick feet. I'm not one of those 225 (pound) guys who can pound it all day. But I've got a little weight to me.

"I know what I've done already and I know what I need to get done. I just try to work toward that all season getting faster and stronger."

Weatherbie spreads the touches around and nine players caught passes against Auburn.

"It's a good role," he said. "We have a lot of good receivers and running backs. I don't think there's much pressure on me at all.

"He has a real good system. The system really gives everyone an opportunity to show their talent."

Saturday is an opportunity for Payne to show off his talent for the state of Arkansas, but he's not using that for any extra motivation.

"I'm just taking it as any other game," he said. "I'm going to give it my best."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories