Ethan Payne has made his decision about college, and it’s a close call. How close? Only about 40 miles down the road.
Payne, the Kennedy Award-winning and record-setting running back at Poca, gave his commitment to Marshall University on Sunday afternoon with a post on his Twitter account.
“With Marshall, I felt like I was wanted, if that makes any sense,’’ Payne said Sunday evening. “I felt like I could go there and make a big impact right off the bat.’’
Marshall was the lone Division I program to make a scholarship offer to Payne at this stage of the recruiting game. Payne, set to play his senior season at Poca this fall, also had offers from Division II West Virginia State and Glenville State.
The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Payne ran for 2,845 yards and 49 touchdowns last year, averaging more than 13 yards per carry and 237 yards per game. In the regular season, he scored 46 touchdowns for 276 points, breaking the former state record of 263 regular-season points set by Pineville’s Curt Warner in 1978.
Payne also plays defensive back and returns kicks for the Dots, but expects to be tried at running back in Huntington.
“That’s all they talked about [at Marshall] was me playing running back,’’ Payne said. “Every single coach I talked to said that, so I’m happy with running back.’’
Behind Payne, Poca posted an 11-1 record last season and earned the No. 3 seed in the playoffs before losing to Oak Glen in the quarterfinals. That performance restored the shine to a program that captured a then-record three straight Class AA state championships from 2001-03.
Payne played a big part in helping facilitate a complete culture change at Poca. From 2004-17, the Dots went 36-106, posting losing records 12 times in 14 seasons, with three straight 0-10 finishes from 2014-16 and a 39-game losing streak, second-longest in state history.
But before last season was over, Payne and the Dots were checking off a lot of mileposts. They went 10-0 in the regular season for the first time since 1978, captured their first Cardinal Conference title since 2006 and beat North Marion 42-27 in the first round of the postseason, their first playoff win in 13 years.
He piled up his rushing yardage despite getting only about 17 carries a game. He finished his 12-game season with 52 overall touchdowns, including two scoring receptions and a kickoff return for a TD. He fell just short of the state all-games record of 54 touchdowns set by Morgantown’s Spencer Farley in 14 games during the 2004 season.
Payne suffered a hip injury as a sophomore that caused him to miss several games and was limited when he returned for the Class AA playoffs. He said he’s fully recovered from that injury, and recently at practice was clocked in an unofficial time of 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Following the hip injury, he was timed in 4.79 seconds.
Payne said he hopes to get his timing and conditioning back before the Dots take the field this season – owing to the three-month-plus layoff due to COVID-19 concerns.
“Definitely that,’’ Payne said, “and staying in shape. The past couple times, I’ve been winded right off the bat. So I want to be well-conditioned and working and getting a little bit faster this year.’’
Payne also carries a 3.5 grade-point average, is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bible Club and National Honor Society.
On his Twitter account Sunday, Payne wrote: “First off, I want to thank God giving me the opportunity to play football at the next level. Without him, none of this would be possible. I also want to thank my coaches, family and friends for supporting me. Finally, I would like to thank the Marshall coaching staff for giving me the opportunity. I’m staying home and 100% committed to Marshall University.’’