Alabama will lose two defensemen in next year’s NFL draft and possibly three after this season.
Justin Eboigbe, a senior, could return for a fifth season after suffering a neck injury but we’ll see what he does.
The Crimson Tide has several talented young players that need to be developed. Damon Payne Jr., a redshirt freshman, is one of those athletes on the defensive front. The 6-foot-4, 303-pounder came to Tuscaloosa (Ala.) from Michigan in the No. 1 signing class of the 2021 Tide. Payne was arguably one of the nation’s top picks for a defensive tackle, and he chose Alabama across multiple schools — including Michigan and Ohio State. After completing his freshman year as a redshirt, he traded in five games in his sophomore season. Payne earned most of his playing time against Mississippi State, notching three total tackles, but he received a confidence boost against Austin Peay. He garnered his first fumble recovery last week at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Alabama’s shutout win over the governors. Payne’s teammates celebrated him as he lay on the ground looking forward to the moment.
His teammates enjoyed his touchdown celebration so much that they spoke to reporters about it Monday.
“At first I didn’t know what was going on,” Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson said of Payne’s celebration. “I was in shock. I didn’t know what he was doing down there. It was like he was swimming backwards. It was funny but to see the excitement on the sidelines, the excitement of the older guys, how proud they were of him, how Byron Young and DJ Dale got out there and cheered him on, that’s what it’s about. It makes sure the younger guys have the foundation.”
Anderson wants Payne to know that veterans of Alabama football have his back.
DJ Dale, a senior defenseman, said it felt good to see the team’s excitement for Payne.
“We are brothers,” he said. “When he got the fiddle back you could see on the video how happy everyone was. He did the funny, weird celebration, but I don’t know where that came from. I hope it has boosted his confidence and shows that everyone has his back.”
Payne is one of several defensive players who should see increased action for Alabama against Auburn and in the bowl game.
He needs to prepare for a marquee role next season.
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Stephen M. Smith is the senior editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can “like” him. Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.