Jeremy Payne scored more than 60 goals during his college career but the one goal with the biggest impact was a relatively routine finish into the net that won an NCAA Division III national championship a decade ago this week.
“I wouldn’t say it was my best goal,” Payne recalled of the overtime winner that sealed Messiah College’s 10th national championship. “For what I had to do it was a simple one-touch front foot finish but the magnitude of it and the impact I don't think there's any goal that I've scored that's bigger than that.”
In a video of Messiah’s Top 10 goals from the 2013 season, Payne’s winner finished third but a decade later it’s an unforgettable and iconic moment that is also a relic of an NCAA past when overcome could still be decided by a golden goal. The NCAA has since shifted to full overtime periods instead of “sudden victory.”
The score was tied that December night 1-1 against Rutgers-Camden in the second overtime at Toyota Stadium in San Antonio when Josh Wood got to the end line and cut the ball back through two defenders in the box to an open Payne in front of goal.
“The ball was coming to me and it was just like oh my gosh I've done this like 1,000 times in training, right? I was in my head thinking just stay over the ball, the goal is wide open you can't screw it up,” Payne recalled. “It was one of those kind of moments where I feel like time just kind of slowed down.”
Scenes followed of Payne running through the field with his navy-blue clad teammates chasing him to celebrate back-to-back national championships that further cemented a dynasty dating back to their first title in 2000. From 2000 to 2013, Messiah’s men’s team won 10 titles. They’ve won just one since adding No. 11 back in 2017.
Now a decade after his title-winning goal, Payne is back close to home working as the Director of Coaching at his former youth club, North Union United, and serving as an assistant coach at Bucknell University on the staff of David Brandt, who coached at Messiah and won six national titles as head coach prior to Payne’s arrival in 2011.
“I never played for Dave but I believe he was someone I would’ve really enjoyed playing for in terms of how he coaches and interacts with players,” Payne said.
Payne’s coaching journey began after finishing college - he was named the Division III National Player of the Year for the second time his senior season in 2014 - when he was a grad assistant under Mark Wagner at Eastern University in St. Davids. Payne took over when Wagner retired and after three seasons at the helm went west to serve as the head coach at Whitworth University in Washington state.
The Middleburg native - who also spent a couple summers coaching with Blaise Santangelo’s USL2, U23 and NPSL teams at West Chester United - returned to Pennsylvania this past spring.
“There’s a good foundation and a reputation here,” Payne said of North Union United. “And there’s talent in this area so it’s something we can build on and there are ways we are looking to improve and grow the club.”
Though it doesn’t come up a lot in his travels now and Payne and his teammates often talk more about things that happened off the field than on it during their championship runs the significance is still in the details of how much that goal meant.
“We won the national championship game and that’s what this night looked like,” Payne said. “But it’s more the experiences we had and the relationships we built playing in all of those extra games making it to two championships in a row that we talk about now.”
Payne has taken those experiences and applied them to his post-playing career mentoring young players and helping to grow his former youth club. The legacy of a wildly successful college career - two national titles, two national player of the year awards, 61 goals and 31 assists in 94 games - is now less in what he did and more what he’s doing now.
“It’s exciting to be back in Pennsylvania,” Payne said. “Things have come full circle a little bit.”
Photo Credits: Messiah College Athletics