A new award honoring Arkansas' finest athletes from its smallest classification now has a face to represent it--former Junction City standout and Chicago Bears safety Kevin Payne.
Formerly the 42 Sports Award, the Kevin Payne Player of the Year Award recognizes the most valuable player from the state's smallest high school football classification--Class 2A.
"I'm excited to help out any way that I can," Payne said. "Coming from small-town Arkansas at Junction City, it feels really good to give the small-town players some notoriety and come out and bring value in any way possible."
"It's a tremendous honor to have Kevin Payne give out my award every year," 42 Sports owner Allen Russell said. "Knowing Kevin's background, I could not have picked a better choice to give out the award. God has much bigger plans than what we can fathom. When he is in control of things, all things are truly possible.
Payne made waves as a star running back and linebacker for the Junction City Dragons, where he amassed 1,700 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns as a senior, while adding 104 tackles, a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown.
"I knew at an early age that I wanted to play in the NFL," Payne said. "Coming from small-town Arkansas, I knew that I couldn't take things for granted. My friends at bigger schools joked that I was only able to do what I did because I played at a smaller school and because of that, I played with a chip on my shoulder."
Payne's breakout year quickly landed him at University of Louisiana Monroe, where he earned Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for 976 yards and six touchdowns, while catching 41 passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns.
In 2007, Payne's childhood dreams came true when he was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.
"Every single day, I worked hard and never neglected the daily discipline that helped me build the confidence in myself," Payne said. "Sports was my way of life. I always played with a chip on my shoulder and stayed away from anything that might jeopardize my football career. I woke up one day and my dreams became reality."
In 2013, Payne started the Kevin Payne Foundation, a non-profit initiative aimed at developing meaningful programs to build and improve intellectual, physical and emotional outcomes for youth,
"I enjoy being around kids," Payne said. "I launched my Foundation to try to build a meaningful platform to help kids become the leaders of the future. We just want to give kids an opportunity to help build their confidence and self-esteem. My purpose in life is to help people reach their pinnacle and help them discover things inside of them that they never knew they had."
The first Kevin Payne Player of the Year Award recipient, Jonathan Lagrange of Mount Ida High School, will be honored in early 2018.
For more information on the Kevin Payne Foundation, visit www.facebook.com/KPayneFoundation
XZero Sports would like to thank 42 Sports for their assistance with this story. 42 Sports can be found online at www.42sports.org and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mtindian42/ and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/42_Sports.