National Signing Day

Becoming the latest in a lengthy line of elite Bastrop High wide receivers to graduate to the college ranks, Jamari Payne signed a letter of intent with McNeese State University on Wednesday morning.

“Playing college football is something I've always wanted to do,” Payne said, “but I'm glad to have (signing day) behind me.”

Payne, who doubled as a return specialist, closed out his high school career with 148 receptions for 2,419 yards, 25 touchdowns and 3,124 all-purpose yards.

As a senior, the 5-9, 180-pound Payne caught 89 passes for 1,383 yards (15.4 yards per catch) and 15 touchdowns in 11 games.

Payne chose McNeese over Northwestern State, the Cowboys' Southland Conference rival.

“I just feel like McNeese has a lot to offer,” Payne said. “The coaches at McNeese really care about you and Lake Charles is a nice city. I think I'm going to fit right in.”

Payne will be surrounded by familiar faces in Lake Charles. Along with Bastrop defensive tackle Johnnie Marsaw, the Cowboys' signing class includes three players from Neville. Payne and Neville quarterback Andre Fuller II, who signed with McNeese as a defensive back, were co-District 2-4A Offensive MVPs as seniors.

“We didn't all plan on going to the same school, but I'm glad it worked out that way,” Payne said. “At least there will be somebody down there that I already know.”

Payne says he was recruited by the Cowboys as a slot receiver.

“Playing the slot at McNeese is pretty much like playing the slot here as far as the scheme,” Payne said.

Payne says it's a big step from high school to college.

“I have to get stronger and faster and catch the ball better,” Payne said. “College football's a different level of ball than high school, so I have to elevate my game in every aspect. At the same time, I believe I can go McNeese and play.”

McNeese competes in the the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).

Payne plans to pursue a degree in education or sports medicine at McNeese.

“I want to stay around football,” he said.

During his time with the Rams, Payne was a three-year starter.

As a junior, he caught 29 passes for 475 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. Also, he returned nine punts for a 27.7-yard average, punctuated by a memorable 78-yard touchdown against West Monroe.

Payne finished his sophomore campaign with 30 receptions for 562 yards and four scores. In his first varsity game, he snared three passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns, including a 99-yarder vs. Greenville-Weston (Miss.).