Five minutes is all it takes to make a phone call, prepare a cup of coffee, or any number of other mundane activities. But Aldine High junior tight end Jayden Payne did more in five minutes last month than most of us will achieve in a lifetime.
Tropical Storm Imelda had severely flooded several parts of the Houston area, including the vicinity surrounding the Aldine High School campus. On the afternoon of Sept. 19, after the Aldine Independent School District dismissed classes early due to the storm, Payne noticed a woman and her young daughter stuck in the floodwaters and proceeded to rescue the pair.
He successfully brought mother and child to safety, earning well-deserved, widespread praise and admiration. Aldine head coach Hank Semler told Texas Scorecard that he and his staff try to encourage their players to put others ahead of themselves, a lesson Payne took to heart and applied without so much as a second thought.
“We want them to learn that they are here to be servants, to have a servant’s heart,” Semler said. “We make frequent references to Scriptures and all. Jayden is one of our young men that has really stepped up lately, even before Sept. 19. He’s one of our young men that has taken these lessons to heart and he truly has a servant’s heart.”
The coach credited Payne’s mother for being a strong and positive influence on him. He added that the faculty and staff at Aldine are complimentary of his character.
The flooding kept Semler from reporting to work that day, but when he learned about the rescue, he knew it was in Payne’s nature to lend a helping hand.
“This would be Jayden,” the coach said. “He’s one of our athletes that has really taken on that servant leadership role.”
Aldine has experienced extensive media attention after the storm. Payne, meanwhile, is taking it all in stride.
“Jayden has been doing really well,” Semler said. “As you can imagine, there’s been a crush of recognition.”
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson treated Payne, a first-year letterman for the Mustangs, as his guest of honor at the Carolina Panthers game on Sept. 29. The Sugar Land Skeeters minor league baseball team extended an invitation for the junior to throw the ceremonial first pitch.
Payne was also interviewed by Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, and Ellen DeGeneres asked him to appear on her show. An ESPN camera crew was scheduled to visit the campus as of press time.
Still, Payne continues to carry himself in a humble manner. He even shrugged off praise from his own coach when the two talked on the phone later that fateful day.
“There’s a whole lot of local all the way up to national, even international, attention on this young man, and he’s handled everything in stride and in an extremely mature manner,” Semler said. “That’s a testament to his mother’s influence on him. He keeps his priorities straight. Jayden would be one of the first people to tell you that, when all of this is said and done, he’s just happy that everyone’s okay.”
According to the coach, Payne’s efforts on the field epitomize the Mustangs’ team identity.
“He’s not real big, he’s not real fast, he’s not real strong, but he’s got a lot of heart,” Semler said. “His teammates are exactly the same. Here, we embody Bear Bryant’s old statement that you have to recognize winners because they come in all forms. Jayden is like so many of our other players. He’s a winner; he doesn’t let the scoreboard define him as a person. He’s going to go out there and give it everything he’s got on every single play.”
Semler believes that “The Good Lord put Jayden there” to save two lives.
“He’s going to be able to remember this act of heroism probably for the rest of his life,” Semler said. “There are two people walking today because of him and what he did on Sept. 19.”