Leviticus Payne is 5’10”, 187 pounds, but he doesn’t act like it.
“I try to play like I’m 6’5”, 230,” said Payne with a laugh. “I really try to man.”
Although he isn’t big, Payne plays a huge role on the Bearcats defense.
As college teams increasingly go to spread offenses, defenses have had to counter by having more players on the field with coverage ability. On the Bearcats roster, Payne is a cornerback. But on the depth chart, he is listed as the starting strongside linebacker.
“He’s a little bit of both,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He’s playing a linebacker position, but everybody plays four or five wide receivers now so you always play nickel. That’s pretty much our base defense now. We call it a 4-2-5 instead of a 4-3-4.”
“I think you have to have five defensive backs on the field,” said co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale. “Most teams’ normal formations have a three wide receiver look and you need to match- up. I think we can still play our coverages and fit the run with this type of defense.”
“When they gave me the opportunity, I tried to take advantage of it and this is where I am right now,” said Payne. “I’m truly blessed to be honest with you. I love that nickel spot. I love it.”
“I thought it worked pretty well for us,” said Tuberville. “We kind of fell into it. He has a lot of experience now and I expect him to have a good year.”
Payne’s position requires a unique skill set: Quick enough to cover receivers, but physical enough to defend the run.
“He’s a great man-to-man cover guy,” said Clinkscale. “He matches up well with the slot receivers and either though he’s small in size; he’s very physical and aggressive. He’s a great player for us and has helped us really build this defense around him.”
“If the other team comes with two backs and a tight end in the game, he has to line up with the big boys,” said Tuberville. “He handles it well. He has good athletic ability and can make big guys that are trying to block him miss.”
“As a kid, I played middle linebacker and fullback if you can believe that,” said Payne. “So I’m used to contact and I really enjoy it to be honest with you.”
Payne finished fourth on the team in tackles last year with one interception and a pair of sacks, including a critical fourth quarter sack of Miami’s Andrew Hendrix in the annual Battle for the Victory Bell.
Leviticus will be expected to make big plays as a senior at a position that is as unique as his first name.
“I’m a hybrid,” he told me. “Just a hard-nosed little guy with some quickness.”
“You always want to coach guys that reflect what you believe,” said Clinkscale. “I’m an aggressive person. That’s the way I was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. Payne is from Detroit, Michigan. He’s going to hit you. He’s going to try to knock out your biggest guy. He wants to cover the best receiver. He wants to be the guy who makes the play for the team. He definitely plays big and we couldn’t do it without him.”
“My main goal is to get to another BCS bowl and get to the (four team) playoff,” said Payne. “I’m going to do anything in my power to help us get there.”
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