The first story that Hammond coach Dan Makosy would tell you if you asked him about Devon Paye might be the one about the time the senior running back destroyed a pair of Schutt shoulder pads during a football game.
According to the yarn, it was the first time on record that a pair of Schutt pads had been broken because of gameplay, and a representative from the esteemed sporting goods manufacturer came to the Columbia school to collect them, presumably in the name of research and development, or posterity.
While some elements of that story may be hard to believe to a casual listener, one might be more inclined to accept the account after watching Paye, the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier offensive Player of the Year, play football.
Paye, a 6-foot tall, 190-pound fireplug who can run a 4.5 second 40-yard dash, plays the game like a sugared-up ten-year-old operates a carnival bumper-car: in search of collisions.
"Anybody that played against him knew he was a pretty tough kid," Makosy said. "The whole season he ran through people. He's not dancing around trying to avoid contact."
But it would be unfair to characterize Paye as a mere battering ram. He is more than capable of making nifty cuts, hurdling opponents or outsprinting them down the field.
Paye, whose mother Royette graduated from Hammond, started playing football in the sixth grade. But he had played other sports before that. After moving to Columbia from Baltimore at age six, he tried rugby at the urging of the oldest of his three brothers.
He "decided to put me in it to see how I liked it," said Devon Paye, whose younger brother, Keon, is a freshman wide receiver and safety for Good Counsel.
While rugby didn't stick, Paye had gotten his first taste of contact sports, and he liked it.
"I kind of got into (football) from talking with my friends and just playing street football," he said. "I first started off playing for the (Howard County) Terps and then came to high school."
Listed as only 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds as a freshman on JV in 2008, Paye had blossomed into a full grown workhorse by his junior year when he rushed for almost 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns, earning first team all-county honors and leading the Golden Bears to their first share of a county title and first playoff win in school history.
Hammond had high hopes to take the next step this season, but it wasn't to be. After losing to Glenelg on a 43-yard field goal as time expired in week five, the Golden Bears won only two more games the rest of the way, finishing 6-4 and missing out on the playoffs.
"After that game everybody just seemed to lose confidence. We knew we could have beat them but it just didn't go as we planned," said Paye, who counts last year's playoff win over Southern as his favorite football memory. "It kind of irritates me because I know we had the potential to make it. … I was trying to get (back to the playoffs) my last year at least so it was irritating."
But it certainly wasn't for lack of effort on Paye's part, who virtually was the Hammond offense by the end of the season.
"We weren't really big this year (on the line) and teams kind of caught on to that," Makosy said. "He kind of put us on his back."
Paye, whose NFL idol is New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, rushed for a league-best 1,630 yards on 178 carries (9.2 yards per carry) and scored 18 touchdowns. He also scored four two-point conversions, was a feared kick returner and in very light defensive duty (he needed to catch his breath sometime) recorded 14 tackles and a sack.
His season highlights include rushing for almost 300 yards against Atholton, statistically the best defense in the league, and scoring four touchdowns in a week nine win over Oakland Mills.
A well-conditioned athlete, Paye seemed to wear defenses down late in games and played his best football late in the season. Over the last four games he rushed for more than 900 yards, averaging more than 10 yards per attempt despite the undiluted attention of opposing defenses.
Paye, who has received interest from Temple, Toledo, Towson, Maryland, James Madison and Utah, has yet to make a college choice, but certainly has a bright future at the next level.
"This is my 24th year and he is by far the best back I've had, and I've had first team All-Mets," said Makosy, who won three state titles in ten years at Damascus before coming to Hammond in 2009. "He is definitely special, and you have to remember that he's only 17. When he's 21 and he becomes a man, he's going to be amazing. He's fearless."