Hurricanes thriving in house of Payne
“Gran J,” as the Payne boys affectionally call their grandmother Julia Davis, makes the trip from Dallas to Houston every weekend during the fall to watch her grandsons, Julian and Jeremy, play football.
Over the past two years, she’s missed only one of their games.
This year, however, has been particularly special for “Gran J” and the Paynes. The brothers are playing on the same team for the first time. Julian, a senior, is a starting outside linebacker for Hightower. Jeremy, a sophomore, is a starting running back for the Hurricanes.
That the boys are together, playing the game that has bonded them for so long, is a thrill for the Paynes. The fact they’re doing so while helping lead Hightower (11-2) to the regional final for the first time since 2011? That’s simply a bonus, like a two-point conversion on a game-winning touchdown.
“I’ve been waiting for this a long time,” said Jennafer, the boys’ mother. “They’ve played baseball, football and basketball, so we (her and husband Aaron) were always all over the place, going to multiple spots or splitting up so each could be at one child’s sport. To have them together, it’s a dream.
“They play with so much passion and they’re best friends. They’re homebodies. They’re not out. They’re always together. It’s been so great.”
Julian, at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, averages 6.8 tackles per game with 15 tackles for loss, three fumbles caused, two fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks. The 5-11, 175-pound Jeremy has 1,388 rushing yards and a team-high nine touchdowns.
In the area playoff win against Georgetown two weeks ago, the boys scored the team’s first three touchdowns. Jeremy had two rushing scores and Julian had a scoop-and-score. In the playoffs, Jeremy has rushed for 200 or more yards in each game with six touchdowns. Julian has 10 or more tackles in each game.
“It’s beautiful, man,” Julian said. “It’s probably my favorite year ever playing football. I love it. My family can now all come watch us at one game instead of having to go to two. At games, we have a whole section with just our family.”
Julian’s earliest memory of his brother and football was when he started playing little league when he was six years old and Jeremy was four.
“He used to always run on the field with us after practice,” Julian said. “We’d do conditioning and he’d come run with us. He’d be right there, right behind me.”
Jeremy was too young to play little league at that time. So, whenever practice was over, he’d join the team and start doing laps or sprints with his older brother.
“I would run on the field with them, and I just felt so comfortable running with bigger, older guys,” Jeremy said. “I’ve always been fast.”
\u2066http://www.hudl.com/v/2FkrBg\u00a0 \u2066\u2066@coachanthony46\u2069 \u2066@CoachScottTX\u2069 \u2066\u2066@KaRonColemanSr\u2069 \u2066\u2066\u2066@HightowerFB\u2069— Jeremy Payne (@Jeremy Payne) 1634335169
The little league coach joked with Jennafer about signing a waiver to let Jeremy play. And when Jeremy finally was able to play, it didn’t take long for him to make a lasting memory his family would never forget.
In the first game of his second year of little league, Jeremy took a handoff and sped off about 80 yards for a touchdown, punctuating it with a halfway-cartwheel dance celebration that infuriated Aaron.
“I remember that run very well because my dad was so mad when I did it. So mad,” Jeremy said, laughing. “He was like, ‘Don’t do it again,’ because of the dance I did.”
Celebratory theatrics aside, Jeremy has made a living in the end zone. He is a natural athlete. On the football field, Jeremy plays running back, receiver, and linebacker. On the baseball field, he plays second base, shortstop, and centerfield.
As a freshman last year, Jeremy was named MVP of Hightower’s varsity baseball team. When he was 13, he won the No. 1 play in the nation, chosen by former Major League Baseball great Ozzie Smith. Jeremy won a $500 baseball glove.
“It’s effortless,” Aaron said. “A lot of the things he’s doing now is because of natural ability.”
Julian has always been a standout defensive player. He played end in little league. In middle school, he played cornerback. At Hightower, he plays outside linebacker and some free safety.
“The freedom, man,” Julian said. “I love coming up and making a big hit or big play. I love setting up a good spot for our offense.”
@CoachScottTX @Ichabod_CMac6 @coachanthony46 @HightowerFBhttp://www.hudl.com/v/2G5ZVu— 6 (@6) 1634516400
Julian is an emotional player. He thinks the game, studies it. Growing up, he taught Jeremy how to go at bigger, stronger players.
“He knows to not go right at them,” Julian said. “He has these little moves that go inside and then out.”
Off the field, Julian is a jokester, always finding a way to poke harmless fun at Jennafer’s expense. Jeremy is more serious, more reserved.
On the field, however, the personas are flipped. Julian is all business. Jeremy is only serious when the ball is snapped. Otherwise, he’s making jokes and letting loose.
“We’re complete opposites,” Jeremy said. “At the house, he’s always messing around and joking around. But on the field, he gets real serious and he becomes this leader of the defense that shows another side. He’s disciplined, he’s patient. He just waits until the perfect moment to attack. I’ll be doing misdirection in practices, and he’s there, meeting me in the hole.”
Jeremy Payne, left, and Julian Payne look on during a game this season.Courtesy of the Payne family
The Paynes are grateful to be playing another week. Only eight teams in the state in Class 5A, Division I are still playing football. Hightower is one of them.
Julian and Jeremy have at least one more game to create more memories together. One more week to learn a dance they saw on TikTok and show off before the game, something that has become a bit of a pregame ritual every week among the boys.
“He’s my best friend. That’s my little bro,” Julian said. “We talk about everything—football, any problems at school, anything. He’s my favorite person in the world.”
And the Paynes have a chance to gather the family once again. “Gran J,” of course, the loudest, most devoted fan of them all.
“It’s magical, but it’s also bittersweet,” Aaron said. “This is Julian’s last year. Sometimes we get sad. We’re happy we’re in this moment and it’s wonderful, but we also don’t want this season to end. You see them so happy, smiling and having so much fun together.”