Stevens, Payne ready to go

While Southwest Minnesota State may have a starting running back coming off a record-setting season, Tyler Tonderum won’t be the only one getting carries out of the backfield this season.

SMSU running backs Ashanti Payne and Davontay Stevens will be in the mix as backup running backs.

Stevens is a junior from of Jacksonville, Florida while Payne enters his sophomore season out of Robbinsdale Cooper in Minneapolis.

Running backs coach Billy VandeMerkt knows that both have valuable skill sets.

“They are both very dynamic backs,” VandeMerkt said. “Ashanti Payne has the ability to make guys miss in the secondary and Davontay Stevens is more of a physical type back. He’ll come up and hit you right in the mouth.”

Stevens and Payne roomed together this past summer and have formed a close bond off the field.

Both said the battle hasn’t had any effect on their friendship.

“We’re both out here trying to present what we could bring to the team,” Payne said. “As a group, we’re all just trying to win games. I feel like we all have a lot of ways we can contribute to the football team,”

Both have been getting plenty of reps in practice and are showing signs of improvement.

VandeMerkt has been impressed with the leadership of Stevens and the overall speed and elusiveness of Payne.

“The big thing with Davontay is that he’s a leader,” VandeMerkt said. “He gets the younger guys going really well and he brings that physicality every single day. Ashanti gets up the field in a hurry. Once he gets out in the open, watch out, because he’ll make you miss.”

It’s only a matter of time before both of them will find a way to make an impact on offense.

VandeMert feels there are too many plays in the system for starter Tyler Tonderum to carry the entire load.

“There are over 75 plays in this up-tempo offense, so Tyler is going to need a break every once in awhile,” VandeMerkt said. “Those guys are definitely going to get in there.”

VandeMerkt can see Stevens and Payne going in where there is a two-back set and fulfill the fullback role.

Both of these backs recognize that the Mustangs offense is loaded with talented players and they have appreciated the opportunity to learn from their teammates.

“We have a lot of depth ,” Stevens said. “You get to learn from the other guys and bring your own work to the table as well. “

Stevens and Payne are adjusting to the no-huddle style of play and feel like they are picking things up well in training camp.

“It’s about being consistent and not getting complacent,” Stevens said. “We try to make a step forward every day.”

Last season, Stevens redshirted after transferring from Ridgewater College in Willmar.

While at Ridgewater, Stevens rushed for 714 yards and six touchdowns in 2011 and was named its most valuable offensive player in both of his seasons there.

Payne rushed for 188 yards on 34 carries as a true freshman last season. Prior to his first season as a Mustang, Payne rushed for 1,432 yards in his senior season at Robbinsdale Cooper High School and was named to the Minnesota Vikings All-State team.