By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Home for the Holidays: Fred Payne
Gainesville grad enjoyed productive freshman football season at Western Carolina
Fred Payne
Western Carolina defensive back and Gainesville High grad Fred Payne (3) is taken down after making an interception by Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis (5) during the first half of a game on Oct. 12 in Auburn, Ala. - photo by Dave Martin | Associated Press

Fred Payne’s motivation to be the best is how he separates himself with work ethic on and off the football field.

After a solid freshman season at Western Carolina, where he played in all 12 games at safety, Payne is back in the weight room during winter break at Gainesville High, where he graduated, continuing to train and stay in shape.

His long-term goal is to transition from a successful college run into a career as a defensive back in the NFL. He knows it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but nothing worth achieving comes without sacrifice.

“I’m just trying to stay confident and better myself at my craft every day,” said Payne, who finished his first semester of college with a 3.3 grade point average.

Payne’s biggest play for the Catamounts (2-10 in 2013) this season came against Auburn, when he intercepted a Jeremy Johnson pass on Oct. 12 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. One week after making his first career start in conference play against Chattanooga, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound defensive back got the call to come into the game against the national title hopeful Tigers.

Payne, who will be pulling for Auburn in the BCS championship game, said that his coaches warned him before entering the game that Auburn might take deep shots against him since he was a freshman. While watching the wide receivers’ hips to follow direction, he was able to get in the right position for the interception on an underthrown post route. He said the biggest thing involved in making a big play in a boisterous environment was not getting overwhelmed by the atmosphere and fan noise.

“It was incredible being able to make a big play against Auburn,” said Payne, who finished with a combined 360 tackles and 14 interceptions in high school. “I just trusted everything I’d learned before and blocked out all the distractions.”

Gainesville coach Bruce Miller first saw the news of Payne’s big play at Auburn on Facebook. Then they were able to talk about it in person when Payne arrived home. The Red Elephants coach had no doubts that Payne, who was a two-time All-State selection for the Red Elephants, would be an impact player at Western Carolina.

Even as a freshman.

“Fred’s one of the most self-motivated players,” Miller said. “And he’s always been an impact-type player.”

Payne is convinced he made the right decision to play at Western Carolina. He knew going in that it would be a young defensive unit, but in 2013 he helped the Catamounts snap a 25-game Southern Conference losing streak with a 27-24 overtime home victory against Elon.

Working his way into the starting lineup took a minor setback after injuring a rib during the preseason, Payne made a big splash in his first start with four tackles and a fumble recovery in conference play against Chattanooga on Oct. 5 — the week before his interception at Auburn.

He finished 2013 with 11 tackles.

Payne has a large network of support from the Gainesville football family. His older cousin is A.J. Johnson, who recently finished his third season as a starting linebacker at Tennessee. And one of his closest friends is his ‘little brother’ Deshaun Watson, who finished his career as Gainesville’s quarterback with a new state-record 13,1135 yards in 2013.

Payne says he is also inspired by former NFL greats, such as Deion Sanders and Ray Lewis. Miller says Payne has trained in the past with former Red Elephants’ standout players Damian Dowell and Mike Malone, who played running back at Western Carolina from 2003-07.

Payne wants to give motivation to the younger players from Gainesville who want to follow the same path as a Division I football player.

“I tell the younger guys, ‘don’t let anyone take away your dreams and set yourself apart by outworking the next guy,’” said Payne, who is training daily at Gainesville High while home for Christmas.

Regional events