The Golden Eagles head into this spring with the losing streak behind them and a brand new feel to the spring season as they get back to work following a tough off-season conditioning program with Coach Smith.
Now, with several running backs lost to graduation and for other reasons, the load falls again to Payne which is just the way he likes it.
Day one for Payne and the Eagles was off to a flying start.
"It was great, it has been a while. I have missed it and being on the football field is my first love," Payne told GoldenEaglePride.com after practice today.
"It felt good and everyone came out used to the system. I felt like we all just felt more comfortable and at ease with the coaches."
The up tempo style of practice is something Payne has adjusted to from last season, and it helped prepare him for the fast pace of games at the D1 college level.
"I feel like I know what is going on right now," he said.
"My freshman year felt like a blur and now the game has slowed down for me. My biggest adjustment was hanging onto the ball and in college everyone is always going after the ball and they'll strip it from you.
"Also, the speed of the game is totally different and fast paced. I feel like it has slowed down to me and I'm seeing things differently."
Payne was able to learn from the seniors ahead of him at the start of last season, and they have helped pave the way for him to take over this year.
"My biggest role model was Hester," he pointed out.
"He always looked out for me and made sure I knew what was going on. He kept my head up and always was taking up for me. I feel like the torch has been passed to me and I'm ready to take it and run with it.
"They have given it over to me."
Payne was also able to experience the first off-season with Coach Smith, one he'll always remember.
"The off season was an entire other level. With Coach Smith, its another level," he said.
"I've never run so much in my life. Its really unbelievable how hard we worked. We went at it so hard.
"I was 198 at the end of the season last year and I started this spring at 208 and feeling in the best shape of my life. I'm ready for a great spring and turning things around this year."
The Golden Eagles take back to the field Wednesday as they continue through the fall. They will practice every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday leading up to April 19th and the spring game.
Look for news, notes, and interviews all spring long with GoldenEaglePride.com.