Beyond the Game: Playing for Payne

George Odum (KATV photo)

It was a routine play at a routine practice.

Millington Central High School, north of Memphis, was set to begin its 2012 season in three days. Wide receiver Dana Payne broke towards the middle of the field. Defensive back George Odum was inadvertently in his path.

"The quarterback threw a slant," Odum said. "I broke on it but then I also was stopped at the same time and lowered my shoulder. It hit him in the chest. He just pretty much collapsed and I guess his lung collapsed then.

"Out of nowhere, he just stopped breathing."

Payne passed before making it to the hospital. The cause, according to a 2014 article in the Memphis Flyer, was bronchial asthma. The impact to his chest is said to be a contributing factor.

"I told my coach, if he passed away, I wasn't going to play anymore."

Odum, now a senior linebacker at UCA, was encouraged to keep playing, as unthinkable and difficult as that may sound.

"[Dana Payne's mom] told me don't stop," he said. "Then all my players, they needed me and nobody wanted to play without me, pretty much. So I just wanted to keep going."

His intensity on the field did not diminish. Rather, he gained a reason to continue to play hard. A 2017 preseason all-Southland Conference honoree, Odum is considered one of the Bears' most physical players.

"He brings some juice to this defense with his play-making ability," said UCA Head Coach Steve Campbell. "He's a smart guy, a savvy guy that's very explosive."

As he enters his senior season, Odum will continue playing for Payne.

"Sometimes I write 'DP' on my wrist if I get my wrist taped that day," he said.

"It reminds me of where I was and where I need to be in the future."

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