A real Payne to Gophers’ opponents

David McCoy

Over the past two games, Minnesota kicker Jason Gianinni has missed five extra points.

Joel Monroe made a couple kicks in the first two games, and then there’s always Phil Burns waiting in the wings.

But just in case it ever got to the point that the Gophers needed a fresh leg, at least they know they could count on Logan Payne.

The junior wide receiver actually played soccer his whole life until high school. That was before Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford – Payne’s high school quarterback – convinced him to make the switch over to football. The Lutz, Fla., native spent his freshman year as a kicker at Land O’ Lakes High School before moving to wide receiver.

“I never looked back,” Payne said. “My best friend was the quarterback, so naturally we had good chemistry there.”

Though he probably couldn’t do much worse than Giannini’s current clip, Payne has been more serviceable at his present position.

He made his first career start Sept. 10 against Colorado State, hauling in a team-high three catches for 51 yards.

For the second straight week, Payne led the Gophers – and all receivers – Saturday against Florida Atlantic with four catches for 78 yards.

“Logan Payne’s the man,” Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito said. “We’ve just got to get him in the end zone.”

Payne’s effectiveness lately is even more impressive when you consider that the guy is doing it all at the Division I level with only three years of high school experience.

One of the biggest areas in which he has made an impact is simply giving Minnesota another option in the passing game. He emerged last year after the Gophers struggled without a reliable third receiver to compliment Ernie Wheelwright and Jared Ellerson.

Coach Glen Mason said it’s not that Payne now starts that matters; his production matters.

“The same question used to be asked of (running backs) Maroney and Barber,” Mason said. “We’ve got a couple of (receivers) who just kind of roll in there all the time, whether it be Wheelwright or Jakari Wallace or Logan Payne or Micah Rucker. It makes no difference. I don’t care who’s in there.”

As the season approached, Mason said he saw Payne’s emergence coming early in spring camp.

Over the summer, Payne and the other Gophers receivers participated in seven-on-seven drills with Cupito to help improve timing and chemistry.

Payne said he feels his biggest strides came in his run-blocking ability – something critical in Minnesota’s offensive scheme – and in his route running.

All that adds up to more playing time for Payne, who is progressively becoming a more dependable – and confident – target for Cupito.

“(Cupito) gave me a lot more opportunities,” Payne said. “He said I’m going to start looking your way more; keep running good routes, stuff like that.

“Coming at me with that confidence gave me a lot of confidence in myself,” he said

Now if the Gophers can only find some confidence in their kicker.