ANDOVER — As Andover kicker Ryan Payne walked onto the field with more than 2,000 sets of eyes resting on him Friday, his holder Cam Keenan tapped him on the shoulder, but did not say a word.
“He was in the zone,” said Keenan. “I didn’t want to say anything.”
Moments later, Payne became the most unlikely of Andover football heroes when he booted the extra point — his fifth made kick in five tries including the game-tying point — that was the winning margin in the Golden Warriors’ overtime victory over North Andover.
It was the culmination of an unusual journey for a senior who had never appeared in a varsity game, did not even play football as a junior, and did not solidify his spot as varsity kicker until late in camp.
“I never could have imagined that this would happen to me,” said Payne. “I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity and made it count. I never thought I would have the chance to win a game for the team.”
A soccer player as a youngster in San Diego, Payne made the transition to football when he moved to Andover in the third grade. Immediately, he was drawn to kicking.
“After playing soccer, I thought I could kick,” he said. “I kicked a football once and I just loved it.”
In his first high school season, he kicked for the Andover freshman team, and as a sophomore he kicked for the JV team. But he soon began to lose his passion for the game.
“I had a bad year sophomore year,” he said. “I thought about it for a long time and decided not to play my junior season.”
Payne regretted that decision last fall when he found himself in the stands at Eugene V. Lovely field as a fan, watching the Golden Warriors surge to a 10-2 record, the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 title and a trip to the playoffs.