Point Pleasant has been blessed with some top-notch players in recent seasons.
Two years ago, running back Cody Mitchell, the program’s all-time leading rusher, finished as the runner-up for the Kennedy Award as the state’s top player and was recruited by Marshall, where he now plays tight end.
Last season, 300-pound lineman Seth Stewart signed with LSU and fullback-linebacker Grant Safford, a two-time 1,500-yard rusher and state wrestling champion, landed at West Virginia Wesleyan. Both were first-team all-staters.
With talent like that, the Big Blacks have posted four straight 10-0 regular seasons and ride a 43-game regular-season unbeaten string coming into this year.
Yet another standout appears to be blossoming in Mason County, as quarterback Cason Payne returns for his junior season.
Payne, at 6-foot-2 1/2 and 205 pounds with 4.73-second speed in the 40-yard dash, put up some solid numbers each of the past two years helping direct the Big Blacks’ offense. As a sophomore, he ran and passed for more than 1,200 yards as Point finished 12-1 and reached the Class AA playoff quarterfinals.
He completed 56 percent of his pass attempts last year for 1,586 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions and ran for 1,237 yards and 15 more scores.
Payne has spent much of this summer attending Division I camps, according to Point Pleasant coach David Darst. Among those are Marshall, Miami (Ohio), James Madison and Old Dominion. “Marshall has asked him to come back down again this summer,” Darst said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of schools this fall who make contact with us.”
During the three-week summer practice period, Payne led the Big Blacks to a 24-3 record in 7-on-7 competition at various camps and tournaments.
So far, Division II programs Glenville State and West Virginia State are the only two schools to offer scholarships to Payne, but Darst thinks Division I offers will start rolling in before the year is over.
Payne has developed not only into a run-pass threat for Point, but is skilled enough on defense to have been selected to the all-state second team in the secondary last year.
Darst anticipates leaning on Payne a little more this year as the latter bulks up his body for the rigors of the season.
“He’s had such a great offseason,” Darst said. “He bench-presses over 300 pounds, and he’s really turned himself into what I’ve wanted, and that’s a dual-threat-type kid in the backfield. He ran track all spring and even kept his speed up with his weight gain.
“The Marshall coaches were real impressed with him. They couldn’t believe the change in him when they see him. He’s the type of kid that can do a lot more for me because he’s got the body to do that. Obviously, his freshman year he was not very big and last year, he started to make some changes and he’s doing it more this year.”
With Mitchell and Safford in the backfield in 2015, Payne wasn’t called upon very much, but threw for 551 yards and 11 TDs and ran for 241 yards and three scores.
Payne already has eight career games of 100 or more yards rushing and three games of more than 200 yards passing.