Jake Payne never played a game for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. He never even attended a training camp. Montreal signed Payne in November of 2016 and released him two days before rookie mini-camp the following April.
But his brief five-month time three years ago with the Alouettes was enough to land him an opportunity to play with the Birmingham Iron of the newly formed Alliance of American Football.
Since there was no formal draft, the eight-team league received players through a two-part allocation process. Players were signed through their college’s proximity to an AAF franchise. Or they were signed based on their most recent NFL or CFL team. Payne, a Battlefield High School graduate who played for Division III Shenandoah University, fell into the latter category since the Iron had initial rights to players from the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL and the CFL’s Alouettes and Ottawa Redblacks.
All Payne had to do was impress the Iron enough to secure a contract. He did, signing with the Iron last August as a member of Birmingham’s first group of signees. After spending two seasons with the Arena Football League’s Washington Valor, Payne is a reserve defensive end for the Iron.
“I want to use this as a way to get better and work my back to the NFL,” Payne said. “It’s always about moving forward.”
After beginning the season on injured reserve, Payne was active for his first game March 16 in San Diego. Payne recorded one tackle in the Iron’s 32-29 win on Nick Novak’s 44-yard field goal as time expired. He added two tackles, including half a sack, Saturday in the Iron’s 31-25 overtime loss to Memphis.
Payne’s interest in the AAF began a year ago when he heard about the AAF competing during a 10-week 40-game regular season starting this February. The AAF’s purpose was to provide a chance for former NFL players to stay in the game and develop others looking to break into the NFL. Teams build their rosters around local players to generate interest as a pro football alternative during the NFL’s offseason.
Not understanding how players joined the AAF, Payne asked his new agent Brian Brundage to send Payne’s info out to the league. Payne’s network and CFL connection helped him secure a roster spot.
Birmingham’s executive vice president of football operations Trey Brown brought Payne into the Philadelphia Eagles’ rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis in May, 2016. Brown was the Eagles’ director of college scouting at the time. Payne also had an in with Birmingham’s director of football operations Ron Selesky, the Cleveland Gladiators’ head coach in 2017 who knew Payne from Arena Football.
“Everything aligned at the right time,” Payne said.
Payne credits Brundage with the chance to play for Birmingham.
“My previous agent went MIA,” Payne said. “I’m not even sure if he knew I was playing for the Valor.”
A Valor teammate recommended Brundage.
“He always answers the phone,” Payne said. “You can tell he really cares.”
The Iron are led by head coach Tim Lewis, a former NFL assistant. The roster is chock full of former Alabama and Auburn players, including running back Trent Richardson, the No. 3 pick in 2012 NFL Draft.
Payne said he’s committed to filling whatever need the Iron has. Payne has beefed up. He began at 275 pounds with the Iron, but now weighs 296.
“I’ll do what I have to do,” Payne said. “If they told me they wanted me to drop 60 pounds to play receiver, I will try it.”