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."
And while Paye has a mean streak on the football field, he is thoughtful and quiet off of it, and says that he would like to study psychology in college.
"He's a good kid, he's a polite young man," Makosy said. "We really loved watching him run and his best days are ahead of him. It's going to be fun to watch him play" in college.
Named to the all-county offense first team:
Brian McMahon, Atholton. An offensive Player of the Year candidate, McMahon had more than 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns combined passing (1,289, 13) and rushing (772, 8) this season, leading Atholton to its first outright county title and a second straight playoff appearance. His 60.4 percent completion percentage was best in the league, and in two years as starter, McMahon passed for 2,400 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 1,354 yards and 12 more touchdowns. He guided the Raiders to 18 wins, more than any two year stretch in school history. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder with a big arm and light feet has drawn interest from several DI programs, including the University of Maryland.
Allen Cross, Long Reach. Cross shared the spotlight with fellow Lightning star Phillip Rhoden last year, but this year he got his chance to showcase his talents and he didn't disappoint. This season Cross rushed for 1,395 yards, second only to Paye, and scored 17 touchdowns, with 12 of them coming from 40 yards out or more. He set several rushing records at Long Reach and rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 20 TDs between his junior and senior seasons. Cross' season highlight was rushing for 185 yards and four TDs in a 33-32 win over Hammond. As a kick returner, he averaged more than 30 yards per return (11 for 335), and he caught a touchdown pass in the Baltimore Touchdown Club All-Star game.
Kenny Thomas, Atholton. One of the few, if not the only, players in the state who could boast a grade-point average comparable to his 40 yard dash time of 4.5 seconds, Thomas was as bright in the classroom as he was on the football field. He rushed for 1,155 yards and 20 touchdowns on 155 carries (7.5 ypc), sharing the ball in a deep and balanced offense. He was at his best in his team's toughest games, rushing for 164 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-14 win over Reservoir, 125 and two in a win over Hammond, and a combined 284 yards and three TDs in two playoff games. Over the last two seasons, Thomas scored 29 rushing touchdowns, and this year he also intercepted two passes. Thomas has plenty of options to play in college, including an offer from Bryant.
Aaron Wells, River Hill. Although Wells' early-season knee injury drew plenty of attention during the Hawks' unprecedented two-game slide, it was his gritty performances down the stretch of River Hill's state championship run that will be his legacy. He rushed for more than 400 yards and five touchdowns in the four-game playoffs, including a postseason-best 164 and two scores at M&T Bank Stadium in the state championship game. The lightning-quick Wells finished the season with 1,366 yards and 20 touchdowns even after being sidelined for several games. Wells, who has committed to play for Villanova, also represented his school in the Maryland Crab Bowl All-Star game, and in two years since transferring from Good Counsel, he racked up 2,872 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Dominic Drew, Oakland Mills. Drew, whose older brother Terrance was a first team all-county selection last year, did the family name proud, catching 30 passes for 529 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder was the Scorpions best player on both sides of the ball, also leading the team with 70 tackles from his safety position and making an interception. Drew had the game of his career in a 27-15 loss to Howard, catching eight passes for 134 yards and a score, making 17 tackles and returning a kickoff 47 yards.
Dequan Ellison, Atholton. Carrying on a great rapport with McMahon from their days together on the JV, Ellison had one of the most prolific two-year runs of any county receiver in recent memory. This year he led the county in catches (48), receiving yards (765) and touchdown receptions (11), giving him 68 catches, 1,126 yards and 19 scoring receptions in two years on varsity. He caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in a 14-0 shut out of River Hill in week three and had three TD receptions in a playoff shutout of Stephen Decatur. He also caught two touchdown passes in the Baltimore Touchdown Club All-Star game.
Joey Usher, Reservoir. Much bigger than the prototypical high school wide receiver, at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Usher excelled in catching passes in traffic and then shedding tacklers to pile on yards after the catch. He was the only player in the county with at least 20 catches to average more than 20 yards per catch, finishing with 26 receptions for 550 yards (21.2 ypc) and a team-high eight touchdowns. On defense he made 41 tackles and intercepted a pair of passes. An excellent student, Usher is being recruited by the likes of Princeton and Cornell.
Tom Klotz, Wilde Lake. One of the keys to Wilde Lake's 2010 state championship team, Klotz was the the most solid all-around football player on a young and inexperienced squad this year. After earning first team all-county honors last year primarily as a playcaller and blocker, Klotz again excelled in those roles, but also got a little more involved in the passing game this year, catching six passes for 61 yards, a touchdown and two conversions. Selected to play in two senior all-star games, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder caught a 22-yard pass in the Baltimore Touchdown Club game and recorded four tackles as a defensive end in the Maryland Crab Bowl.
Paul Federinko, Atholton. One of the biggest players in the county, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound left tackle gave opposing linemen plenty to worry about late at night before gameday. He helped clear the way for more than 4,200 yards of total offense this season, and on defense, he clogged up running lanes to make 28 tackles and busted through the line for three sacks. Federinko played in the Maryland Crab Bowl and has garnered interest from multiple Division I programs.
Kyle Jackson, Hammond. The most experienced player on a young Hammond line this year, the 260-pound team captain was one of the biggest reasons that Paye was able to have the season that he did on offense. Also a very good student, Jackson is looking to play college ball at the DIII level.
Karrs Johnson, River Hill. The Hawks best offensive lineman was strong and quick at 6-feet and 240 pounds, and was also experienced as a two-year starter. Though he didn't receive as much praise as his team's ballcarriers, Johnson was equally responsible for the Hawks 3,620 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns. In limited time as a defensive end, he recorded three tackles for loss.
Justin Lee, Reservoir. Reservoir's best two-way lineman, Lee's agility, strength and 6-foot-1, 285-pound frame translated to Gators' success on both sides of the ball. As one of Reservoir's most improved players from a year ago, Lee was honored at the end of the season with an invitation to play in the Chesapeake Bowl All-Star game.
John Pickett, Long Reach. Pickett, the Lightning's top offensive lineman, blocked one or two would-be-tacklers flat against the field every game, helping the team rush for a school record 275 yards per game and score 32.9 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder was one of only two players on his team to require a triple-XL jersey.
Luke Brister, Glenelg. Brister burst onto the scene with a 43-yard game winning field goal as time expired against previously undefeated Hammond in week five, but that was not the junior's only highlight this fall. He finished the season with four field goals and has a range of at least 50 yards, according to coach Butch Schaffer. He nailed 26 extra points in 28 attempts, and even threw a 25-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in a 23-20 win over Long Reach.
Raamah Vaughn, River Hill. Vaughn was as important to River Hill's state championship run as any player on the team, and he did a little bit of everything for the Hawks. After catching three passes for 38 yards early in the season as a receiver, his transition to quarterback led to the Hawks ten-game win streak in which they scored an average of 38 points per game. As signal caller, he completed 26 passes for 563 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 662 yards and 13 touchdowns for a combined 1,225 yards and 20 TDs. He was also one of the Hawks' most reliable kickoff returners and defensive backs in spot duty. In two state tournament games, Vaughn rushed for 181 yards and six touchdowns. He will look to continue his football career at Bryant next season.