Chris Payne knew he was seriously injured when his leg began to roll under him.
The Columbia High senior was running down the sideline in the Capitals’ Sept. 16 game against Brookland-Cayce when he broke his ankle while being pushed out of bounds.
“I knew it wasn’t a sprained ankle right away,” he said. Payne, a linebacker who was playing running back to fill in for an injured teammate, had plenty of experience with sprained ankles in his junior year. Immediately he knew this was different. He had played on a sprained ankle several times. This time, he could not move his ankle at all.
“I knew my season was over. I thought my scholarship was gone,” said Payne, who committed to play at USC early this year. His commitment helped friend and teammate Damario Jeffery decide to attend South Carolina as well. Both are now sidelined and recovering from surgeries. Payne had surgery on Sept. 23 to repair ligaments in his ankle that were affected by the break.
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In the month since his injury, Payne has had plenty of time to think. He realizes now that the swollen cast on his left ankle is a sort of blessing.
“I have known that my ankles were a problem, and I feel like this whole situation is God’s blessing,” he said. “Even though I’m missing my senior season, it’s better to have this injury now, to get this taken care of now, than if I had gotten injured in college and had to redshirt.”
After leading the team as a linebacker in 2007, Payne started this season as the Capitals’ primary back. Three games in, Payne had tallied more than 300 yards and coach Kemper Amick decided to use Payne at linebacker again.
“It was situation where we were all focused on one goal, and I was going to do whatever coach asked me to do to get us there,” Payne said. In his first start back at linebacker, Payne made 15 tackles.
Payne had his eye toward closing his high school career with a Class 2A state championship and maybe an all-star game. Instead, now he is sitting at home, using the quiet time to focus on his schoolwork.
He has only gone to a few practices, to cheer his team on and encourage teammates to stay focused.
He told them not to visit him at home. Some still do, occasionally.
“It’s hard not to wish I was out there, but I try not to think about it,” Payne said. “I still believe my team can do very well without me and I don’t want them getting unfocused, thinking about me being injured.”
“It must be very hard for him,” Amick said. “Because I don’t think I’ve ever coached anyone that is more intense and loves football more than he does.”
Amick said Payne’s passion and acumen for football will make him an asset to the Gamecocks next season.
This season on the sidelines is not the kind of preparation he planned on, but Payne insists, he’ll still be ready for college football.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419.