Lest any Washington Redskins fans think defensive tackle Daron Payne was born with superhuman strength, here’s his real secret: hard work, and a lot of it. It’s a testament to the 22-year-old’s tenacity and humility to hear him talk about the beginning of his football career.
“I wasn’t strong at all going into high school,” Payne says. “But when I got in the weight room and stayed in the weight room, it just took off from there. Once I started training and lifting every day, I think it just started translating onto the field.”
The 6-foot-3, 320-pound nose tackle grew up in Birmingham, Alabama where he attended Shades Valley High School. Payne was rated as a five-star recruit and committed to play for the Crimson Tide at the University of Alabama under legendary head coach Nick Saban.
Payne made his mark at Alabama too. This is no small feat considering the team has ruled college football for the last 10 years, winning five national titles since 2009, two of them with Payne. In his junior year, he was voted defensive MVP of both the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship Game. After the season ended, he announced that he would enter the 2018 NFL Draft, where the Redskins drafted him in the first round.
Payne says the biggest change in coming to DC is “being away from everybody that I know,” but he happened to land on the team
with the most former University of Alabama players in the NFL. The Redskins have six former Bama players on their current roster including Payne, and another two on injured reserve and the practice squad. He says having other Bama players on the team helped with the transition from college to pro.
“I could just ask them about how things are and the whole process. They guided me through my first year in the NFL, so it made the whole thing easier.”
Payne says he still keeps in touch with other former Crimson Tide players across the NFL too, not just Redskins players.
“All of us keep in touch and hang out when we get the chance.”
The defensive tackle’s sense of community extends beyond football to volunteer efforts. During the offseason, Payne had a chance to make a trip to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia to bring attention to the Army base’s new dental clinic and meet some fans. He also hosted a back-to-school giveaway in Birmingham, giving out backpacks and other school supplies to kids in need.
“I really didn’t get a chance to [give back during] my rookie year because I was just trying to dedicate all that time to training,” he says. “I definitely just wanted, with the off-time that I had, to do a little something that I could to give back.”
Now that the 2019-2020 season is in full swing, Payne is sure to be busy training and playing hard for the Redskins at every upcoming game.
At a recent press conference, head coach Jay Gruden spoke glowingly of Payne’s talent and determination, ruminating on what gains he has made after his rookie season.
“I have high expectations for Payne,” Gruden says. “I think he has high expectations for himself, as does everybody else in this locker room. He’s a guy that works extremely hard. He’s stronger, he’s quicker and I think he’s got a chance to be one of the dominant linemen in pro football if he keeps on this track. It’s very exciting to watch him play. He’s excellent against the run, he’s powerful, he can rush the passer – and we like him.”
High praise for Payne, who works hard to take every opportunity as it comes.
“I just try to go game by game,” he says. “[I’m] just trying to have my best game every game.”
Check out the Redskins’ October home games on Sunday, October 6 at 1 p.m. against the New England Patriots and Sunday, October 20 at 1 p.m. against the San Francisco 49ers. Find out more at www.redskins.com.
FedExField: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD; 301-276-6000; www.redskins.com