Ethan Payne said he was “humbled’’ when he broke one of Curt Warner’s state records during this past prep football season.
Now, he’s connected with the former Pineville High School flash in an even more profound way, winning the Warner Award as the top running back in West Virginia. Payne, a junior at Poca, was selected for the honor by a panel representing the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Payne ran for 2,845 yards and 49 touchdowns this season as the Dots posted their first 10-0 regular season since 1978, earned the No. 3 seed in the Class AA playoffs and advanced to the quarterfinals with their first postseason win since 2006.
Warner, a former All-America running back at Penn State and All-Pro in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks, scored 263 regular-season points in 1978 for Pineville, at the time a Class A school in Wyoming County. Payne broke that mark this year by scoring 46 regular-season touchdowns for 276 points.
“It meant a lot to me, knowing that I broke his record,’’ Payne said. “I never watched him play, but I knew he used to play in the NFL and everything, so I knew it was a good thing to break.’’
When Payne took to Twitter to react to his accomplishment, he did so with typical selflessness: “I would like to thank my teammates and the boys upfront blocking for me. Without them it wouldn’t be possible. All the glory goes to god.’’
Payne’s athletic career is certainly in its early stages, but he already has drawn multiple parallels with Warner, the namesake of the Warner Award who helped Penn State capture its first national championship in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and was selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft by the Seahawks.
After leading the AFC in rushing yardage in his rookie season of 1983 and helping the Seahawks reach their first AFC championship game, Warner suffered a torn ACL in the team’s opener the following year and missed the rest of the season. But he recovered and picked right back up where he left off, gaining more than 1,000 yards in 1985 and rushing for a career-best 1,481 yards in 1986.
Payne also rebounded from a devastating injury, suffering a hip avulsion fracture as a sophomore and missing the final month of the regular season after he’d run for 990 yards and 14 touchdowns in the Dots’ first six games.
He said his recovery was just as draining mentally as it was physically.
“I was working out every day,’’ Payne said of his rehab, “jumping rope, running, lifting weights. It took a lot of work there, all off-season. Mentally, too, it was tough. I was kind of nervous coming back, knowing about that hip injury I had last year. I was pretty certain I could (come back), but there’s always that thought in the back of your head that you could get hurt again, and I didn’t want that to happen.’’
Payne was on point from the very start of the season, rushing for 295 yards and four touchdowns in the opener at Nitro.
Before the season was over, he scored seven touchdowns against Herbert Hoover (including one on a kickoff return), six against Logan and five each against North Marion, Chapmanville, Winfield and Scott.
Seven times he rushed for more than 200 yards in game, with two of those efforts going over 300 yards, including a career-high 314 yards on 20 carries in a 56-21 victory against Winfield, a Class AA playoff team.
Earlier this month, Payne was selected as a running back on the first team of the Class AA All-State squad for the second straight season.
Finishing second in the Warner Award voting was Musselman’s Blake Hartman, a junior who rushed for 2,109 yards and 29 touchdowns and scored 37 overall TDs. Rounding out the top six were Hunter America (Doddridge County), last year’s winner, along with Mark Rucker (Tyler Consolidated), Jakob Caudill (Cabell Midland) and Devin Gaines (Parkersburg South).
Payne will be recognized during the 74th Victory Awards Dinner on May 3 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.