Sophomore tight end Payne Durham had to grow up quickly last season to fill the veteran position as an a underclassman.
The age spread of tight ends for the Boilermakers ranges between a freshman, three redshirts and one other sophomore who transferred from the defensive end this season. With 250 snaps in the position under his belt, Durham has the experience necessary to be a leader among the tight ends.
Last year he played in the shadow of fifth-year star tight end Brycen Hopkins and studied the dynamics of Boilermakers’ offense.
“Last year, I had a very specific role behind (Hopkins),” Durham said. “This year, it’s a little bit different. There’s guys counting on me, and coaches are counting on me.”
Durham says Hopkins served as an important role model for him, a role he hopes to play for the rest of the young tight end squad.
“Garrett (Miller) and Kyle (Bilodeau) come over to my house a whole lot of nights and just study the playbook with me,” Durham said. “(I) teach them things that were taught to me, kind of how to conduct themselves.”
Tight ends coach Ryan Wallace said he feels good about Durham being the number one tight end.
“Payne has a very high ceiling,” he said. “He stays motivated because he never has a bad day.”
Wallace attributed Durham’s physicality and agility characteristically required of tight ends to his high school lacrosse career. He didn’t pick up football until his senior year, but accumulated 22 receptions for 330 yards and five touchdowns by the end of the season.
He played in two games as part of the reserves his freshman year, but it wasn’t until last year that he was inducted into the Boilermakers’ arsenal.
In a receiving core that was stacked with such big names as Hopkins and sophomores Rondale Moore and David Bell, Durham still found a way to make plays.
He saw the field in all 12 games and started in four. In last year’s game against Vanderbilt, his first reception ended up being his first touchdown. He had eight more receptions for 82 yards and three more scores by the end of the season.
To maintain his power in the red zone, Durham said he wants to keep up what he did last year and find a way to always come away with the ball.
“(I need to) get myself open and in tight spaces making sharp cuts,” Durham said. “(When) the ball’s up in the air, kind of having a basketball rebounding mentality, that that’s my ball, and I have to come down with it. There’s no other option.”
Durham added he wants to focus on third down conversions and making more receptions farther down the field, lengthening the 9.1 yards per reception he had last season.
Despite the ups and downs of the offseason, Durham made the most of it. That being said, he was still disappointed when the news came in August that the 2020-21 season had been postponed.
“I was so down in the dumps when it got canceled,” Durham said. “I think I had a really good offseason, so I was ready to show what I would have been working for.”
Durham was not the only person in the locker room who felt that way.
When the news of the canceled season was released, Durham said morale was so low that the training facility was “probably one of the worst places to be in America.”
However, last month’s update announcing this year’s modified football season flipped the team’s bummed morale on its head. Durham spoke for Boilermakers on and off the field when he talked about getting back on the field on Saturday.
“(The news) couldn’t come fast enough,” Durham said. “I’ve had the jitters all week. It’s a surreal feeling that we’re finally here, and I’m excited.”
The Boilermakers will play Iowa on Saturday at Ross-Ade at 3:30 p.m.