Hampton senior scores inspirational touchdown

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Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 7:57 PM


On the last game of its season against its most bitter rival, Dustin Payne proved to Hampton — and everyone at Fridley Field that night — there is no such thing as a losing season.

Payne, a senior, scored on an 11-yard touchdown pass to end Hampton’s season on a high note in a 27-7 loss October 25 to Mars.

“It was a run play, but there was no one guarding me, so I ran a go route,” Payne said. “I saw the ball. I was looking back. It was a dime by Matt DeMatteo. It felt really good to score a touchdown the last game of my senior year.”

After the play, his teammates gathered round in celebration while junior lineman Dawson Dietz lifted him into the air.

“He’s always excited,” Dietz said. “He always just loves being there with the guys and is one of the hardest workers on the team.”

Payne had seen varsity action in a blowout loss to Penn-Trafford earlier this year. But never he had touched the ball, let alone caught a fade route. But he wasn’t nervous — for the most part.

“I didn’t know if the safety was coming to me or not,” he said. “That did make me a little nervous. I thought maybe someone was going to come and knock me down before I touched the ground.”

In addition to avoiding a shutout by its biggest rival, the touchdown served as an exclamation point in a rather down season for the football team.

“Whenever he scored, it showed how much that meant to him and all of us,” Dietz said. “It made everyone so happy to see him that happy. It lightened up the season a pretty good bit.

“It was something bigger than the game, and you could tell.”

Payne, who says the inherent risks of playing football “made me want to play it more,” thinks the touchdown was a culmination of dedication and sacrifice that started long before he put on a football helmet.

“It was more than hard work in practice. It was determination, what I’ve been through all of the years to show that I overcame the obstacles that were faced ahead of me to score that touchdown,” said Payne, who has autism.

Payne joined the team last year as a junior. He plays in part to honor his uncle, Clay Payne, who died in 2014.

“That was my motivation,” he said. “Every hit, every pass I’d catch in practice, it was to show for him and honor him. I knew he’d be proud. It felt like I lost a huge part of me when he passed.”

After the game, Payne was watching his touchdown tape and noticed something.

“When I was watching film, I saw a bird flying around my head. I said, ‘That’s my Uncle Clay,’ ” Payne said. “He was looking over me.”

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