Casey Payne knows a thing or two about soccer success at LaFayette High School.
In his senior season of 2005, he scored 11 goals and dished out nine assists, his Ramblers finished with a 12-5-1 record, took second in Area 6-A/AA, and qualified for the state tournament.
After the season ended, he signed with Brewton-Parker College, becoming the first LaFayette boys’ player to sign on to play college soccer straight out of high school.
Eight years later, Payne is back at LaFayette, looking toward the future while looking back at the past.
“Being back here and coaching this team means everything to me,” he said. “Like I told the guys in our first meeting, I poured so much into it when I played here. I wore the same jerseys they did, so I know where they are and where they’ve been. I’m just excited to get back here and starting coaching.”
A young Rambler squad went 2-12 in 2012, and although Payne knows turning around his alma mater’s fortunes will not be an overnight fix, he believes an older, more experienced group of players can build on the lessons learned last year and take a step forward this spring.
“I know we haven’t played a game yet, but they’ve looked really good so far,” he said. “We’ve got seven seniors and a strong group of juniors behind them. I think they have the talent and they are capable of winning more this season if we can just put it all together.”
Like the high school teams he played on, Payne knows a strong defense is a cornerstone, and he will have seniors Nick Queen and Logan Edgeman patrolling the defensive half of the field.
“They are both wrestlers, so they’re physical players,” he said. “That’s what you need in the back to anchor the defense.”
Shelton Forester, another senior defender with a strong left foot, will provide more senior leadership on the backline.
In the middle, Kenny Sandusky displayed solid skills and speed a year ago, and is poised for a big final season, while Drew Kelley possesses a lot of power with his shots. Devin Green is coming off a leg injury last year, but is back at 100 percent now and looks to be a go-to guy at forward.
The final senior, Chase Horne, has capably served the Ramblers at keeper the past two seasons, averaging 17 saves last year to earn team MVP honors. But Horne also has good footwork and ball skills and Payne plans to move him up to offense this season in hopes of giving the team a spark.
Payne called the leadership of the seniors “pivotal”.
“I’ve had meetings with them,” he explained. “I told them that I needed them to buy into the program I’m trying to set up, and they have all been amazing so far. Like I told them since Day One, we’re all in this together and they’ve bought into it. They lead in the right way, and they know what needs to be done.”
Center midfielder Dylan Queen will lead the junior class. Blessed with good ball skills and field vision, he will be counted on heavily to help control flow of the game.
Payne said sophomore Trevor Logan has been performing well since taking over for Horne in net, and he also has high hopes for freshman midfield/forward Mark Bennett.
One look at the subregion tells Payne all he needs to know about how tough the schedule will be, but he doesn’t shy away from expectations.
“I’m expecting a lot from them, and they know that,” he said. “We’re in a really, really tough subregion, but I think we can be very competitive. If we are competitive, and give other teams a lot of trouble, that will go a long way toward us being successful this season.”
The Ramblers will be tested right out of the gates. They open on March 1 at Northwest Whitfield, before back-to-back home matches against Dalton and Heritage, leading to a road test at Southeast Whitfield.