Channing Schultz thought he knew Jordan Payne.
As a defensive back for the Case High School football team from 2008-11, Schultz was matched against Park’s multi-talented quarterback three consecutive seasons. He knew all of Payne’s little nuances — or at least he thought he did.
But seven years have passed since their high school days and a great deal has transpired since then.
Payne is a former NCAA Division I-AA All-American receiver at Alcorn State, the same program that produced the Green Bay Packers’ beloved Donald Driver. And if not for two torn Achilles tendons, Payne might be playing in the Canadian Football League these days.
So Payne is not the same player Schultz remembered in high school. That became evident during a recent Racine Raiders practice, when Schultz dug in to cover Payne at Gilmore Middle School.
Class was in session.
“It was like a hitch-and-go and the way he faked it, the way he ran his route, it was almost like when I look at NFL players and the way they break off the line,” Schultz said. “I went a whole different way and he caught the ball with one hand. It was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
And then class was dismissed.
Payne could easily settle into his new life as a math teacher at 21st Century Preparatory School while scratching his football itch with the Raiders and as receivers coach at Park. But at 24, Payne still wants more as a football player, and on a far larger stage than Horlick Field.
It might have already happened if not for an ugly streak of bad luck for an athlete who had never been injured in an athletic event.
It started Jan. 28, 2017, when he was trying out for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL in Jackson, Miss. The temperature was 38 degrees. And Payne thought he had made a favorable impression.
“It was probably a five- or six-hour tryout,” Payne said. “But I overcame the weather. I had the fastest 40 time, the fastest shuttle, I caught all the passes, every route was comfortable and everything was good. The coach and general manager were talking to me and asked, ‘Hey, do you have a passport? We want to talk to you when the tryout is over.’ “
And then Payne was asked to run one more route.
“It was just a little slant route and I walked up to the line,” he said. “I pushed off and I just felt a complete pop in my left foot.”
The diagnosis was a torn left Achilles tendon. Surgery was performed Feb. 8, Payne was in a cast for three weeks and in a walking boot for another five weeks.
And then came last Nov. 3, just as he was almost healed. While playing basketball in the area, Payne tore his right Achilles tendon. Surgery was performed five days later and another long recovery ensued.
“I thought this was maybe God’s way of saying, ‘Hey, maybe teaching is your path,’ “ Payne said. “But then, after talking with people, especially with my dad and my mom and brother, they were like, ‘Maybe this is also God trying to see how how much you’re willing to go through and how badly you really want it.’
“It’s made me a little more hungry. But I’m still going through the mental part of it because every time I do something, I’m thinking I don’t want it to happen again.”
His first step back with the Raiders has been a slow process. He practiced for almost a month before appearing in a game and has made just two appearances so far with modest production.
After catching 67 passes for 1,280 yards and 21 touchdowns in his career at Alcorn State, Payne has just three receptions for 31 yards and a TD this summer.
As much as Payne appreciates his experience with the Raiders, he’s hoping it will be short-lived. This is a man who has some big goals in mind.
“Hopefully, I can be on some Canadian field or on some NFL roster,” he said. “I even talked to Tony Romo because I was in his camp and then I came back to help him. He said there was no reason why I shouldn’t have been in some camp.”
So Payne will keep pushing. Meanwhile, Raiders coach Wilbert Kennedy is grateful to have him around.
“He’s an outstanding individual and he’s a lot of fun to be around,” Kennedy said. “He brings so much to the table as far as his ability and his athleticism. And he’s a great teammate. We want to try and get him the ball.”
“I don’t think that some of the guys are actually aware of who he is yet, but they’re probably going to find out soon.”