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55 Yard Line

Lions’ free-agent camp: Kendrick Payne’s journey’s taken him from Houston to Berkeley, and he hopes it will lead him to B.C.

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Cal defensive lineman Kendrick Payne (#96) chases down Colorado's Rodney Stewart in 2010.

Many of the players at Saturday's B.C. Lions' free-agent camp in Seattle were from Washington or surrounding states, but defensive lineman Kendrick Payne's football journey has taken him farther afield. Payne grew up in Houston, Texas, but went to Berkeley to play college football at Cal, where he entered as a two-star recruit but went on to beat more highly-touted players. He started eight games for the Golden Bears in 2012, co-led the squad with a career-high 3.5 sacks and earned the team's Bob Tessier Award as its most improved defensive lineman. Now, he's hoping his career will take him to Canada. Payne impressed all day in workouts and was one of the last players left. He said he was happy with his showing at the tryout.

"I feel like it went pretty well for me," Payne said. "I moved well today, I ran pretty good times. It’s an exciting opportunity, especially the thought of getting the chance to go to Canada. It’s amazing."

Payne said that would be just the latest step in his football journey, one he's hoping to press on with.

"I played at Cal, but I'm originally from Houston, Texas," he said. "I played at Klein Forest High School in Houston. I'm from a small town right outside Houston, I've been playing football all my life, and I'm hoping to continue it right now."

Payne said he doesn't know a ton about the CFL, but he's heard good things from those he knows who have played in it.

“I know quite a few people that played, my friend’s dad and some people that mentored me through college," he said. "They told me nothing but great things, so I’m really excited about the opportunity."

One of the main differences between American and Canadian football is the one-yard neutral zone between offensive and defensive linemen at the start of a CFL play (unlike American football where the lines start together), but Payne said he thinks it's not going to be too hard for him to adapt. In fact, he said that change may even help his game.

"Football is football," he said. "As far as the yard off the ball because I'm a defensive lineman, I'll get used to it. A lot of times, you give me a little space...extra space is good for me."

Like Peter Nguyen, Payne is trying to make the pros right after finishing his college career. Unlike Nguyen, though, he graduated last May and stayed at Cal to play football last fall. He picked up a degree in social welfare, and said he wants to go back to school at some point to further his education.

"I plan to go back to school eventually," he said. "That's definitely my fallback plan."

For now, it's very much a fallback plan, though. Payne said he wants to continue with football "for as long as I can go." He was very impressed with how the Lions' coaches ran Saturday's camp, and he thinks B.C. would be a great place to play.

"It was actually better than the NFL camps I went to, it was well-organized, it was quick," he said. "I felt like I was really being evaluated and they really were giving coaching tips. They really put a little bit of an effort into their jobs, which was nice to see. It definitely makes me want to be part of their organization."

Payne has been through plenty of adversity in his football career, including transferring to Klein Forest from a different district, journeying across the country to play at Cal, beating out more-heralded recruits and then dealing with the university's decision to fire head coach Jeff Tedford (a former CFL quarterback) last November. He said all the challenges have helped him become stronger, though, and a chance to continue playing football in the CFL would further his belief that he's blessed.

"It would just mean what I already know, that I'm very blessed, that God is on my side," Payne said. "I thank Him for his love and mercy at all times, because, you know, I've been through a lot of obstacles and it's a blessing to be standing on this field right now. Anything after this is a plus."

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