Tight end Aubry Payne of Georgia State catches a pass against Army at Georgia State Stadium on Oct. 19, 2019. (Todd Drexler/Georgia State Athletics)

Georgia State’s Aubry Payne has the knack for finding the end zone

Georgia State’s Aubry Payne knows how to be in the right place at the right time, especially when it’s inside the red zone. 

The junior tight end has caught 11 passes this season for 161 yards, a modest 14.6-yard average. But six of those have been for touchdowns. In the seven games he’s played, Payne has caught a touchdown pass in six of them, making him one of quarterback Dan Ellington’s go-to guys around the goal line. 

“Those balls just keep coming my way, so hopefully they keep coming,” Payne said. “Coach puts me in the right spot, and Dan puts me in the right spot, so I just go and try to make a play when they call my number.”

After completing an all-state career at Locust Grove High School, Payne signed with Western Carolina. He played in 11 games, started the last six and was named to the Southern Conference’s All-Freshman team. 

But Payne missed home, grew weary of small-town mountain life in Cullowhee, N.C, and was getting impatient after a hamstring injury limited him to one game as a sophomore. He began to consider his options and started searching for a larger school. 

Midway through his sophomore season, Payne announced he was transferring and selected Georgia Southern -- at least for a couple of hours. 

“The same night I posted the picture of Georgia Southern stuff, (Georgia State tight ends) coach (Josh) Stepp called me said they wanted to get me on campus,” Payne said. “The next week I said I went to look at Georgia State and that was it. This was actually my first offer, so it has a little bit of value to me.”

This season Payne been consistent and reliable as a blocker and receiver. He combines with Roger Carter to give the Panthers solid production at tight end. 

“Aubry and Roger have done a great job in our run game and throw game,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “Aubry has been opportunistic in the red zone. He does a phenomenal job with his hands, can catch really well and does a great job in the run game. We’re fortunate to have him, and he has propelled himself this year under coach Stepp.”

Until the last game, all of Payne’s touchdowns had come from inside the 20. Against Troy he went for a 40-yard score, catching a pass that deflected off a defender and staying in stride to the goal line. 

“Anytime you can have a tight end who can do both (block and catch), it gives you the personnel grouping you can play fast with,” Elliott said. “You don’t have to change in and out, and that gives you an opportunity – it certainly helps Dan – and it helps us do what we want to do.” 

Payne likely will have his number called this week when the Panthers (6-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) travel to play Louisiana-Monroe (3-5, 2-2). The game has all the makings of a shootout: Georgia State average 478.6 yards in total offense and Louisiana-Monroe averages 429.8 yards. 

The game is important for Georgia State, which already is bowl-eligible, but wants to get in position to play for the Sun Belt championship. The Panthers can’t afford to look past Louisiana-Monroe if they want to keep those dreams alive. 

“The coaches always preached, ‘1-0, 1-0, 1-0,’” Payne said. “We’ve got to get through this week, and then we know we’ll look to App State next week, but right now we’re playing ULM, and we’ve got to beat them first.”

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