PROVO — Upon arriving at BYU four years ago, special teams coach Paul Tidwell met a super-sized redshirt freshman placekicker named Matt Payne.

Tidwell's first impressions? "I never thought he would be a very good punter," he recalled. "He was a little raw and hadn't done it very much. As he continued to work on it during his freshman year, I, of course, changed my thoughts. But I've always seen the strength in his leg and always thought he would be an outstanding kicker."

Payne, selected as the Deseret Morning News Athlete of the Month for October, has proven to be a standout kicker and punter — and much more.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from North Ogden became the starting kicker for the Cougars in 2001 and was the backup punter before taking over the punting chores in 2002. Now, as a senior, he is a semifinalist for both the Ray Guy Award, emblematic of the nation's top punter, and the Lou Groza Award, emblematic of the nation's top kicker.

"When you've got the Payne Train on special teams, it always feels good," quarterback John Beck said after the Cougars' 49-16 victory over San Diego State. "The Payne Train just keeps on going."

But after four seasons, the Payne Train will make its final stop at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, when the Cougars host New Mexico. That harsh reality has already sunk in for Tidwell. "I'm going to miss that kid," he said.

Payne stands in second place on BYU's all-time scoring list with 307 points, 26 behind his placekicking predecessor, Owen Pochman. He also owns the school record of 67 consecutive extra points. In his career he has booted a pair of 53-yard field goals and boasts a 79-yard punt. Last week, he set an NCAA record with his 13th consecutive field goal from 40-49 yards, breaking the mark Notre Dame's John Carney had held since 1985.

"Any time you have a national record, it's big-time," Payne said. "It's a great honor."

Yet numbers, records and streaks don't begin to explain what Payne has meant to the Cougar program the last four years — as an all-around special teams star and also as a leader.

"It's hard to put in perspective his contributions to BYU and to this team because it's not just in points and kicks and field goals," Tidwell said. "It's how he's been a leader and example."

For a kicker to be a team leader is "an oddity," Tidwell continued. "He is a special young man. He's a guy the whole team looks up to. Not just the special teams, but the whole team."

That became more apparent that night in September when Payne's 38-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left in the waning seconds against Boise State. After the 28-27 loss, Payne's teammates rallied around him in the locker room.

"Matt Payne is the greatest kicker," Beck told the media after the game. "I'll take Matt Payne over any kicker in college football any day. He's the best guy out there."

Payne dealt with the pain of that miss, but quickly bounced back with a strong performance in October, proving that the errant kick doesn't haunt him.

"It was definitely difficult that night," Payne said. "But I had to move on the next day. The sun comes up, you move on. You learn from your past and just don't let it happen again. I think I've done a pretty good job of putting it behind me and learning from it."

"Matt's very strong mentally, which puts him in a class by himself from a lot of other kickers," Tidwell said. "After the Boise State kick, the first thing he said to me was, 'I can't wait to see the tape because I know exactly what I did.' He was already evaluating himself. He wasn't the type that came off of the field and went into the tank by any means. He came in the next day, watched it on film and put it behind him. Obviously, he'd love to have it back, but I think he's going to remember a lot more accomplishments than just one missed kick."

Also memorable during the Boise State game was his ability to dish out pain on kick coverage. Payne leveled Broncos' kick returner Chris Carr twice — highlights played over and over again by sports highlight shows around the country. In all, he's been credited with seven tackles this season.

"I tell Matt to keep his nose out of there unless it's absolutely necessary," Tidwell said. "I don't like him going down there and throwing his body in there. But he loves it. He enjoys doing it."

Tidwell knows it's all part of riding the Payne Train.

Athlete of the Month

Matt Payne

BYU football

6-4, 234 pounds, senior

Position: place kicker/punter

Hometown: North Ogden (Weber HS)

Current residence: Provo

October highlights

Helped the Cougars to a 3-1 record

Earned MWC player of the week honors for Oct. 2 game against Colorado State

Earned MWC player of the week honors for Oct. 23 game at Air Force

Booted a 52-yard field goal against CSU

Booted a 53-yard field goal against Air Force

Picked up a first down with a 20-yard fake punt run against Air Force

2004 Deseret Morning News Athletes of the Month

January — Nate Harris, Utah State basketball

February — Mark Bigelow, BYU basketball

March — Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz

April — Melissa Vituj, U. gymnastics

May — Carlos Moreno, BYU volleyball

June — Annie Thurman, USA Curtis Cup golf team

July — Teren & Emily Jameson, 10K winners in July 24 road races

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August — Cael Sanderson, Olympic champion wrestler

September — Alex Smith, U. football

October — Matt Payne, BYU football


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