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19 DAYS TO 2023 KICKOFF: VJ Payne

In which BracketCat counts down the 19th day until the 2023 kickoff with a profile of Kansas State safety VJ Payne.

#19 VJ Payne
VJ Payne (19) was an instant impact player as a freshman in 2022, and he ended up starting four games after Kobe Savage and Cincere Mason each suffered season-ending injuries. Now he returns as the second-most experienced safety.
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

#19 VJ Payne

True Sophomore | 6-3 | 200 lbs. | Gainesville, Georgia
VJ Payne
VJ Payne
Courtesy Kansas State Athletics
  • Position: Safety
  • Previous College: None
  • Projection: Starter
  • Status: On Scholarship

Victor J. Payne (b. March 17, 2004) is a hard-hitting strong safety majoring in kinesiology.

A true freshman in 2022 who did not redshirt and played in every game, with four starts — against South Dakota and Kansas, in the Big 12 Championship against TCU, and at the Sugar Bowl against Alabama — Payne started the season opener at free safety, becoming the first K-State true freshman to start a season opener since tight end Jeron Mastrud in 2006 and the first on defense since at least 1988.

After settling in as the starting strong safety following season-ending injuries to Kobe Savage and Cincere Mason, he carded a season high with 10 tackles in the Sugar Bowl — which included his first career sack — as he tied for 10th in K-State bowl history in tackles.

That topped Payne’s previous high of eight tackles, set against Kansas. He also had four tackles in the Big 12 Championship game against TCU and two at West Virginia.

Entering 2023, Payne appears to be a stone-cold lock to start at safety alongside Savage.

He prepped under head coach Bryant Appling at Buford High School in Georgia, where he was rated as a linebacker by 247Sports, which placed him at No. 80 in the Class of 2022.

Payne earned first-team all-region honors as he helped to lead the Wolves to a 14-1 record and a state championship as a senior, following additional state championships during both his sophomore and junior seasons. He also competed in track and field.

Payne selected the Wildcats over impressive Power 5 offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Boston College, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, USC and Vanderbilt, as well as Appalachian State, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Georgia State, Troy, UAB and UConn.

His primary recruiters were running backs coach Brian Anderson and his defensive coordinator (and position coach), Joe Klanderman, who is very high on his young prospect:

As soon as freshmen come in, two of our guys are going to have chances. There are guys who are as good physically as anybody we’ve recruited since we’ve been here. In my room, in particular, Jordan Perry and VJ Payne, those are going to be probably the best two looking safeties in our room. One is 6-foot-2 ½ and the other is 6-3, and they’re both around 200 pounds and both can run, and both played high-level high school football. How quickly they can adapt to college football and the pace is going to determine a lot about how quickly they get on the field. Even if we can use them in a special teams role in the fall, it wouldn’t surprise me because they both open it up.

Here’s what head coach Chris Klieman had to say about Payne’s potential when he signed:

VJ can do everything. He can play safety. He can play linebacker. He’ll blitz. He’ll cover runs and strikes people, plays all over the field. ... So excited to have VJ. They just won the state championship last weekend. Excited to have VJ join the program.