Hornets’ Payne receives camp invites

Jake Payne

Jake Payne wasn’t going to get his hopes up during last week’s NFL draft. Even after representatives from the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams informed the Shenandoah University defensive end that his name was listed on their draft boards, Payne knew that hearing his named called as a draft selection was a long shot.

But Payne, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s 2015 Lou Wacker Defensive Player of the Year, did expect to pick up a contract offer as a free agent shortly after the draft’s conclusion Saturday, especially given the volume of interest he’s received from numerous NFL teams. He didn’t get that call either – but Payne did get one last weekend that has kept his NFL dreams alive.

Payne announced Sunday he has received an invitation to participate in the New York Jets’ rookie mini camp this weekend. That was followed on Monday by another invitation, this one to attend a mini camp with the Eagles on May 13. At each tryout, Payne will have the chance to earn a free-agent contract.

“It’s a real blessing from God for giving me this opportunity, definitely just gonna go out and make the most of it,” Payne said by phone on Monday. “I was shooting to get signed as a free agent. That was kind of my goal, but I knew it wasn’t gonna be easy. … I knew it was gonna be an uphill battle, so even just getting to a rookie mini camp, I’m still happy. Definitely, without a doubt, I’m still happy just to get the opportunity. I knew it was gonna be a tough battle and I’m ready to take it on.”

Payne, a three-time all-ODAC selection at defensive end, capped his four-year playing career at Shenandoah with 53 total tackles (26 solo) and 14 tackles for loss while leading the conference with seven sacks in 10 games last fall.

Last December, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Payne was selected for the FCS National Bowl Game, an all-star game held at Florida International University that included players from the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), Division II and Division III levels.

Payne also was invited to the College Gridiron Showcase in Texas in January.

Payne said Jets scout Bill Dekraker visited Shenandoah University in week three of the college football season last fall to watch film. The two reconnected at the FCS National Bowl Game, Payne said.

“The Jets have definitely been the most consistent throughout this whole thing as far as teams go,” said Payne, a Catharpin native and graduate of Battlefield High School in Haymarket.

Payne has busied himself preparing for a possible professional football career since Shenandoah’s season ended in November. He withdrew from classes after the fall semester so he could travel in late December to Florida, where he worked on pass-rushing techniques, did strength and speed training and performed combine-specific drills.

In early March, Payne returned to Virginia, where he has resumed work with his regular speed trainer. He’s also worked with pass-rush trainer Sudan Ellington, whom Payne met during a pro day workout at the College of William & Mary on March 17.

Payne said he’s been working on strengthening his pass rushing technique out of a two-point stance and his dropbacks in preparation for a switch to outside linebacker (the Jets run a 3-4 defense).

Payne reports to the Jets’ rookie camp tryout on Thursday, with drills being held Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Honestly just go out there and do the best I can, hopefully earn a spot on the team,” Payne said. “At the end of the day God’s got a plan and I have faith in it. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m gonna do my best to get a contract.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com