Occasionally in life we have moments that make us appreciate what we have. These moments are unpredictable, they’re fleeting and they come in unexpected forms. Day five of this year’s fall BYU football training camp brought one such moment for Cougar kicker Mitch Payne.
While attempting a 50-yard field goal a true freshman tried to block a field goal but accidently took out Payne’s ankle. At that instant, lying on the ground, the six-foot-two Payne remembers being in a significant amount of pain and being unsure of how long the injury would sideline him, but he also remembers something else.
“I didn’t know how bad it was going to be or how long it was going to take me to get back so, especially with it being my senior year, it was a scary thing,” Payne said. “I saw the whole season flash before my eyes.”
However, less than one month later Payne suited up and kicked in BYU’s first game of the season versus Washington. What could have been a terrible career-ending injury is now only a memory, a memory Payne considers to be a blessing.
“I’ve been very lucky to heal rather quickly,” Payne explained. “To have the chance to play on such a great team is an amazing opportunity. Seeing, at that moment, that all of this can end at any time made me appreciate it all a little bit more.”
FITTING THE MOLD
Many would say Payne is a stereotypical BYU student and he makes no apologies for it. Hailing from North Ogden, Utah, he is the second youngest of nine children. He served a mission to Brazil, which he believes made him a better football player as well as a better person.
“I matured a lot in those two years I spent on my mission,” said Payne. “I think maturity is really important, especially in my position because kicking is very mental.”
Payne has also excelled academically during his time as a Cougar. He has earned academic All-Mountain West Conference honors the past two seasons and was a MWC scholar athlete last season. He has already earned a degree in business management and is currently in graduate school pursuing a master’s degree in public administration.
“I would like to play football after college but at the same time I’m not planning on it because it is a tough business,” Payne said. “If the opportunity arises I’ll take it but I’m working hard in school so that I can hopefully get a good job that I enjoy as much as football.”
Last fall he joined 25 percent of BYU students in another club...the married club.
THE NEWLYWED GAME
Upon returning home from his mission, Mitch met a girl named Alex. The two were only friends initially but eventually that friendship evolved into something more.
“We were friends but we would always flirt with each other and we had this joke that if we weren’t dating anyone else we would date each other,” Alex Payne recalled. “We both were in serious relationships for a while but then one summer both of those relationships had ended and we started hanging out. He was always pretty shy, but after that summer I could tell things were different and that we both knew we liked each other.”
The Paynes began dating in July and were married on January 2, 2009.
One would think that balancing a marriage, school and football along with everything else that life brings would be difficult, but the Paynes make it look easy.
“We don’t really feel overwhelmed with it,” said Alex. “We enjoy what we’re doing, we enjoy the busyness of football. We have so much fun; he has fun playing and I have fun watching.”
Mitch acknowledges the blessing of his wife’s support and feels their success stems from their mutual appreciation for the game of football.
“My wife is very supportive,” Mitch said. “She really likes football so it hasn’t been that difficult because we both enjoy it. We both like watching it and she really supports me with my time commitment to football.”
SAME NAME, SAME NUMBER
Payne didn’t always want to be a kicker. He didn’t always want to play football.
“I grew up playing a lot of different sports,” Payne remembered. “But when I saw my brother do so well kicking at BYU, I decided that I wanted to do that and worked really hard at it.”
Payne has four brothers but the one he is referring to is Matt Payne, BYU’s kicker and punter from the years 2001-2004. The elder Payne, who stands two inches taller than Mitch at 6-4, was known for his hard hitting. The most notable hit Matt made during his career at BYU was a hit made against Boise State during his senior season which can still be seen on highlight videos on Youtube.
Matt taught Mitch how to kick and it was Matt’s success at BYU that made Mitch want to come to BYU.
“Mitch grew up playing soccer,” Matt remembered. “He was a great soccer player and had a great leg to kick with. He saw my success down at BYU and decided that kicking for football was something he wanted to do and be good at, so he asked me to help him with the fundamentals of kicking.”
The practice time they spent together obviously paid off. Today, Mitch wears the same number Matt once wore, #38, and hopes to make him proud in the wearing of it. Matt says he already has.
“It’s been a lot of fun to watch him progress in kicking the ball,” Matt said. “I think he has represented our family well, he’s represented BYU well and I think he’s represented the Lord well. I’m proud of the way he conducts himself on and off the field.”
INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY?
So Payne grew up wanting to be like his big brother, he did everything LDS kids are expected to do and now he is living the dream as kicker for BYU’s successful football team. What’s interesting about that?
When asked to tell any funny stories they could think of about Mitch both his wife and his holder, Matt Marshall, were eager to share their own tale.
According to Alex, Mitch has always been very innocent. However, Alex shares one time when Mitch broke the law.
“When he was a little boy in elementary school he forged his mom’s signature,” Alex shared. “But there was one problem...he signed the name “Mom” instead of “Mary.”
Marshall shares a more recent incident.
“We always joke around with the long snapper and kickers because they only practice during key periods of practice and then they’re usually standing around somewhere,” Marshall said. “One day toward the end of practice we were all yelling for Mitch to come kick and he was no where to be found. Turns out he thought he was done with practice so he was getting a massage while we were out practicing.”
A KICKER’S REPUTATION
Marshall finished his story with one final quip.
“That’s just how kickers are I guess.”
Marshall is not the first to make fun of kickers. Throughout history kickers have been the butt of football jokes. Even Mitch himself called kickers “head cases.” However, when it comes down to one final kick to win or lose a game no one is laughing and all eyes are on the placekicker.
“A kicker always has to be ready,” said Robert Grant, a graduate assistant specializing in coaching kickers at BYU. “Players that are on the field constantly can make mistakes and hope that no one noticed, but kickers usually only get one chance so it is very mental.”
A kicker can make or break a football game. Take Payne’s performance in the Cougar’s 2007 victory over the University of Utah for example: Payne scored nine of BYU’s 17 points in the win off three successful field goal attempts. BYU won the game 17-10, which means Payne’s contribution on the scoreboard was larger than the margin of victory.
Still, Grant emphasizes that in addition to being a great kicker, he is also “a super human being.”
“He is a great student and young man,” Grant said without even being asked. “He’s a pleasure to work with and he’s a friend as well. He always does what’s best for the team by doing what is necessary, on and off the field, and I respect him for that.”
Still, despite all the pressure, Payne is just enjoying his final season on the field as a Cougar. Payne loves everything about being kicker for the Cougars and says he wishes everyone could have the feeling he has running out onto the field on game day.
“I love the game of football,” Payne said. “The games are the best part of BYU football. To be able to go out there and represent the University while feeling the energy of the fans is just an amazing experience I wish everyone could feel.”
But not everyone gets to run out onto the field on game day. Not everyone gets to hear the roar of the crowd and know all the cheers are directed at them. And that is what makes Mitch Payne interesting.
He may be an All-American Mormon kid but he has fulfilled his dream. He is healthy, ready to play and today he will run out on the field, enjoying every moment of being a college football player.
BYU and Brazil
In addition to Mitch Payne, four other current Cougar football players have served missions to Brazil. Brandon Bradley served his mission in Sao Paulo.
Terence Brown served in the Brazil Maceio’ Mission. Zed Mendenhall served his mission in Santa Maria while linebacker Jordan Richardson served in the Brazil Belo Horizonte Mission. BYU’s defensive back coach Nick Howell also served his mission in Brazil.
“I loved the climate, the sun; everything is very pretty,” Bradley said. “It’s great because down there everyone is treated like family. Even when they
didn’t want to hear what we had to say, they’d always offer your a drink or some food. I was very lucky to serve in Brazil.”
Brazil was the first country toured by a BYU athletic team when the men’s basketball team visited the country in 1950.
Former BYU men’s basketball standout Jonathan Tavernari hails from Sao Bernardo, Brazil and recently competed in the South American Championships as part of the Brazilian national team. Brazil defeated Argentina to finish 5-0 claiming the 2010 South American Championship.
“Brazil is a great country, and I’m proud to be from there,” Tavernari said. “The people, the culture, and everything about Brazil is warming and welcoming. Brazilians love to embrace people and ideas and that’s why the Gospel, the Church, and missionary work are successful there.”
Mitch Payne, Fortaleza Mission
Brandon Bradley, Sao Paulo East Mission
Terence Brown, Maceio’ Mission
Zed Mendenhall, Santa Maria Mission
Jordan Richardson, Belo Horizonte Mission
BYU’s defensive back coach Nick Howell, Belo Horizonte Mission
Jonathan Tavernari hails from Sao Bernardo, Brazil