Former NRHS Warrior Pheldarius Payne prepares for final game as a Virginia Tech Hokie

Published 3:59 pm Saturday, December 23, 2023

College football bowl season is upon us, and for former Nansemond River Warrior Pheldarius Payne, it is a bittersweet moment as he suits for the final time as a Virginia Tech Hokie Wednesday. Payne and the Hokies will take on the Tulane Green Wave in the Military Bowl in Annapolis at 2 p.m., which will be televised on ESPN.

“[It’s] bittersweet,” the redshirt senior said. “It was a good journey, but everything comes to an end.”

With it being his final game and his sights set on a shot at the NFL, Payne said he considered opting out of the bowl game to begin training for a potential next step.

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“I definitely did [think about opting out] at times,” Payne said. “But, I just love the guys. There is no point in me opting out. We’ve already been through a whole season. Let’s finish it. Go out with a bang.”

The journey for Payne started at Lackawanna College, where Payne said he feels like that is where he received the most development and credits his dad for helping him in his younger years.

“I met a lot of good coaches [at Lackawana]. I feel like that’s where I really got developed,” he said. “Growing up through high school, my dad used to develop me a lot, like almost every Saturday we used to wake up around 4 a.m., go to Mount Trashmore, and run up and down the mountain, around the mountain. My dad did everything good possible, even when I wanted to chase my basketball dreams, he helped me shape my basketball dreams.”

Payne helped Lackawanna to a 21-1 record in his two seasons, including a 21-game winning streak. He recorded 30 tackles for the Falcons in 2019, including 12 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also had one pass breakup, a fumble recovery, and five quarterback hurries. In the junior college national championship game, Payne made seven stops with 2.5 TFLs and one fumble recovery for a touchdown. As a freshman at Lackawanna, Payne recorded 23 tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks.

Looking back on the beginning of his journey at the junior college level, Payne says he wishes he had performed better in the classroom while at Nansemond.

“Me personally, school, I always struggled in, I just put it off,” Payne recalls. “I would just say to the kids overall, make sure you take care of their schoolwork. Grades are bigger than football. Without [good] grades, you can’t do anything because they can find another player like you, even better than you with better grades.” 

During the 2019 JUCO National Championship, Payne was committed to playing at NC State the following year, but after visiting Nebraska, Payne decided to join then head coach Scott Frost’s Husker team.

His arrival to campus was stalled a bit when the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone into isolation, but Payne was able to join team meetings via Zoom until he arrived on campus in June 2020.

After losing about 20 pounds, Payne said he was moved to outside linebacker/Defensive end, which challenged him to learn a new position at the highest level of Division 1 football.

“I lost about 15 to 20 pounds,” he said. “I got moved to outside linebacker/D-end. So, coming through that, it was something totally different. So I [had to] learn something totally new. But I had one of the best coaches, coach [Mike] Dawson.”

In his first season with the Huskers, Payne saw action every game, finishing the season with 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and a pair of pass breakups. Payne made his Husker debut at outside linebacker, recording two tackles at No. 5 Ohio State. 

In 2021, Payne played in the first 10 games of the season before an injury sidelined him for the team’s final two games.

During the 2021 season, Payne says his playing time was reduced to a level that caused him to seek another transfer opportunity, this time back home in Virginia with the Virginia Tech Hokies. 

“But throughout the season, I was only getting like 10 to 15 plays,” Payne said. “If I was making plays, I feel like I should play a little bit more … So towards the end of the season, I never thought about hitting the [transfer] portal until the end of the season … I looked at what I did the first game and why I wasn’t playing throughout the season. So I decided to hit the portal.”

After removing his name from the portal and giving Nebraska another shot during the spring, Payne felt he was in for more of the same, so he re-entered the transfer portal and ended up at Virginia Tech.

“I ended up at Virginia Tech because I was close to home,” Payne said. “I really like coach Pry. I talked to him during my recruiting process at Penn State. I felt like I should end up playing for him eventually. He has one of the best defensive schemes in college football.”

During his fourth workout, Payne injured his Achilles and had to sit out the entire 2022 season. Although it was a massive blow in his fifth college football season, Payne credits his dad for keeping him focused and finishing what he started.

“I’m like, why me,” Payne recalls. “But, I had to stick with this. My dad always said you got to finish what you start, so I’m going to at least finish my football career.

After arriving at Virginia Tech, Payne was excited about playing in Virginia, but the injury made it challenging, especially when the Hokies traveled to Norfolk to take on Old Dominion.

“Of course, when I committed here, I never played in Virginia,” Payne said. “I wanted to play in the 757 so bad. I was like, I can’t even play in front of my crowd, my people, where I’m from.”

The opportunity to play Old Dominion came this season when the Monarchs traveled to Blacksburg to open the 2023 season, but Payne got hit with a targeting penalty, sending him to the locker room early.

“It was probably my fourth or fifth play, I got a targeted call,” Payne said. “I just got, I waited a  whole entire year to play my first game for it to be a targeting.”

Payne finished his final regular season with 29 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, and four sacks and hopes to make a lasting impression in his last game at the collegiate level.