By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Some of the notables are Millington’s Corey Smith to UT-Martin track, Lausanne’s Eric Gray to Tennessee Football, Memphis University School’s Maurice Hampton to LSU Baseball and Football and Germantown’s Cameron Baker to Memphis Football.
Playing against and alongside such competitors inspired 2019 Germantown graduate Ethan Payne to work hard to be mentioned in the same class. His efforts paid off in numerous awards, a scholarship to play baseball for the Tennessee Vols and the 2019 West 10 Media Male Athlete of the Year award.
“When I first heard about it, I was surprised because there is a lot of talent in the Memphis area,” Payne said. “Across the city you have Maurice Hampton and Eric Gray. Then you have my old teammate Cameron Baker. They’re all tremendous athletes. They work just as hard as I do. So it means a lot to me to win this award.”
Payne joins previous winners Bartlett’s Jonathan Bowlan (2015) and Arlington’s Tate Kolwyck (2018). Bowlan went on to be drafted by the Kansas City Royals of the Major Baseball League in the second round last year.
Kolwyck is currently enjoying success as part of the 2019 National baseball champions Vanderbilt Commodores, who won the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“I’ve played against Tate several times in high school Germantown vs. Arlington,” Payne recalled. “I think he actually hit a home run off me one time. Of course he’s a great talent being up at Vanderbilt. They’re the defending National Champions.
“Obviously he’s a top notch player,” he continued. “To be put in the same category as him is a honor. He played a little bit last year at Vanderbilt. Just doing that is insane. Just to know now I am in the same category as him is an honor.”
Payne was also honored to find out many Germantown supporters and those affiliated with the school strongly nominated him for the West 10 Media award because of his work off the field as well.
“That makes me feel pretty good because not only on the field, I try to be just a good guy, good friend and good teammate,” he said. “My parents taught me to be respectful to my teachers, authority. I just try my best to do what they taught me to do. It’s nice to know people think that of me.”
The son of Michelle and Todd Payne was a top level student and community leader in Germantown and Cordova.
But what brought Payne the most recognition over the past four years was competing for the Red Devils in football and baseball. Each school year started with Payne gearing up for the gridiron for then Head Coach Chris Smith.
“Germantown Football, it was great,” Payne said. “We first started off when I got to Germantown High School with talent. It was Coach Smith’s first year during my freshman year. So we had a little bit of growing period. We had to adjust. He had to adjust to the players. We had to adjust to the new system.
“It was great just growing into a team,” he continued. “We formed such great relationships. It was what made us so good my last two years. My class, we started from the bottom and just grew together with Coach Smith. That’s why we worked so well together.”
Payne was named to the All-Region first team his junior and senior seasons. The Red Devils won the Region title both years with undefeated regular seasons. Payne even has a preseason All-State first team selection on his football résumé.
“I told my mom the other day, ‘I don’t really miss high school,’” he said jokingly. “‘But there is one thing I do miss. That’s high school football.’ Right now I would be gearing up for the season. Hot practices, you’ve got to love them. It’s great and I do miss that a lot.”
Payne said the 2017 and 2018 Red Devils missed out on the chance to bring home a State title, but he would still stack his teams against the best of the Memphis area for the past 10 years.
“We finally had a group that we all knew what we wanted,” he said. “We just clicked. I think then once we know we got the group, we knew we had the talent. We just put it all together. We had a great season and our confidence just kept building and building.”
Payne’s confidence in baseball started while he was in elementary school. He first appeared on a diamond around the age of 5 at Bellevue Baptist Church.
Then his skills matured into an all-star level with him making the 2019 Shelby Metro All-Star team. Payne was also named to the second team All-Metro team in 2019. He was selected the SCIAA MVP for baseball as a sophomore.
“Baseball was one of the first sports I started playing,” he recalled. “I grew a love for the game. Football has been great and I’ve definitely learned so much from football. It has made me a better baseball player.
“I’ve said it in the past, baseball is my first love,” Payne continued. “It’s what I wanted to do from the start. It’s what I’ve dream of, making it to the MLB. Now playing at the collegiate level in the SEC, the Southeastern Conference is definitely top notch. Maybe the best conference in the United States.”
Payne was recruited by the Volunteers to join their nationally ranked baseball program. Tennessee reached Regionals this past season and has added talent from around the world, hoping to reach Omaha in the near future.
“Great competition and to know I was chosen out of so many great athletes out of the country, even the world,” Payne said, “we’ve got a guy from Australia and Puerto Rico on our team. Just knowing what I was picked for, what they’re doing at Tennessee is awesome.”
Payne was also picked as the third winner of the West 10 Media Male Athlete of the Year. He hopes this will be another springboard for his future like it has been for previous winners.
“I’m just going up there to compete,” he said. “I feel like just in a month up there in Knoxville I’ve become a twice as good of a baseball player mentally and physically. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.
“Even if I don’t get drafted,” Payne concluded, “I want to go up there and know I became the best baseball player I could possibly be. If I can be up there and know in my mind that I gave the best I can, that will be fine with me.”