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Andrew Jackson High School veteran offensive line coach Larry Cox calls Volunteers’ senior lineman Aaron Payne “a quiet leader.”
Payne, a 5-11, 230-pound senior guard in the AJ offensive line, isn’t vocal.
He lets his pads and his play do the talking in the trenches, whether it’s practice or a game.
“Aaron is real quiet,” Cox said. “He doesn’t say a whole lot. He just works hard and does his job.”
Payne’s job this season is a different duty, moving from tackle to guard in the AJ offensive line.
“We needed size and strength at guard and he’s worked hard in the weight room to get a lot stronger,” Cox said.
He’s making his presence known as Cox regards Payne as the AJ’s “most consistent blocker.”
“Aaron leads the team in knockdown blocks and is averaging 87 percent on his offensive line grade for the season,” Cox said. “He’s more physical this year.
“Two times during the season, he’s graded at 90 percent and that’s awfully good for an offensive lineman.”
Payne’s embraced the move.
“I love it,” Payne said of his switch from tackle to guard. “I get to pull and make key blocks. Guard is a better fit for me.
“I like watching my teammates score and knowing I made a key block and being a part of their scoring,” Payne said.
Cox said Payne has been consistent all season, noting his play in AJ’s home win over St. Johns was outstanding.
“He played real well in that game and had a couple of blocks which led to touchdowns,” Cox said.
Tonight, Payne and his AJ teammates will be butting heads with old rival Buford High School in the Vols’ Conference IV-AA home opener.
“It will be homecoming,” Payne said. “We have to control the ball and not have turnovers.”
Payne can help with ball control.
“You just have to get low and stay on your blocks,” he said. “Coach Cox taught me how to stay on your blocks and keep your feet moving.”
Cox said Payne grasps the idea and clicks in his play.
“Aaron practices hard every play in practice and it carries over to the games,” Cox said. “He’s earned everybody’s respect in the offensive line.
“He does what you ask him to do. Aaron’s the first player to jump in there and he performs.”
Since this is his senior season, Payne said it was time to produce.
“During the off-season, I worked hard,” he said. “I knew I had something to prove and I had to step up.”
Cox said Payne has stepped to the fore.
“Aaron makes very few assignment errors and blocks until the whistle,” Cox said. “He gives a full effort and practices like it’s the game.”
AJ head coach David Moore has taken notice.
“Aaron’s a good kid and he comes from a good family,” Moore said. “He’s the type of player you like to have around. I’d like to have him another year.”