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Gainesville grad looking forward to next professional football step with XFL's Houston Roughnecks
Gainesville High graduate Fred Payne lines up for his team in the German Football League during the 2019 season.

Fred Payne was working out with the Gainesville football team when he received a text of congratulations from friend and NFL star Deshaun Watson. Payne was confused for a moment, and then he received the call. It was the Houston Roughnecks of the brand new XFL, and they had good news. 

Payne’s dream of playing professional football in the United States was finally a reality. He was one of the lucky few chosen to take part in the XFL’s first season starting in February.

“The XFL is going to be a great step,” said Payne, who still has plans of one day moving to the NFL. “It kind of gives players like myself and guys who were formerly in the NFL, or who got cut by teams – it gives all the top prospects the opportunity to display their talents and compete on another high level.”

Payne first caught the eye of Roughnecks coach June Jones while playing overseas in the German Football League. Watson and some of his other friends had shared Payne’s highlights on social media, and the brand new team in Houston took notice. 

Communication was difficult due to the time difference and Payne’s lack of an American phone, but eventually Jones managed to get in contact with him. 

“He told me he liked my game style and any opportunities open up, he was going to definitely be giving me a shot,” Payne said. “He liked the way I played and he thought I could be a leader for the defense this year.”

The Roughnecks brought Payne in for a workout as soon as he got back into the States in early September, and they liked what they saw enough to give him a shot. 

He had already received offers from several teams in both the German and Canadian football leagues, but being able to play in his home country was a dream Payne has always carried with him. Getting to play in the same city as Watson was the cherry on top.

“I’m just that step closer to bringing back memories like how we did it in high school, winning championships together,” Payne said. “Every league, growing up from Pop Warner to middle school to high school, we won a championship together. Now we got our opportunity to get to the professional league, and my aspirations are making it to the NFL.”

Payne is currently still in Gainesville, where he’ll be working out and staying in shape until the start of rookie minicamp on Dec. 3 when he’ll move out to Houston. 

Though he still has a long way to go, Payne sees this move from the German Football League to the XFL as a major step in the right direction of one day playing in the NFL. And while simply making it to the world’s highest level of football is challenge enough, Payne’s aspirations don’t end there.

“The ultimate goal is to end up in the Hall of Fame as a professional athlete,” he said. “But I’m taking it one step at a time of just making the roster with an XFL team, becoming a starter, get defensive player of the year, get in those conversations, and then do the same things all over again once I get on an NFL roster so that way I can end up with the Hall of Fame jacket up in Ohio.”

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