Millington High School football family honors Dana Payne - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Millington High School football family honors Dana Payne

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Dana Payne was a 15-year-old sophomore at Millington High when tragedy struck during an August football practice. Dana Payne was a 15-year-old sophomore at Millington High when tragedy struck during an August football practice.
Tameka Smith spends a lot of time at Millington High School, even though her son hasn't played a game in nine months. Tameka Smith spends a lot of time at Millington High School, even though her son hasn't played a game in nine months.
Coach Chris Michael said Payne "played hard" and "practiced hard". Coach Chris Michael said Payne "played hard" and "practiced hard".
Millington High recently retired Dana Payne's football jersey. Millington High recently retired Dana Payne's football jersey.
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MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) – A Mid-South high school football family honors a teammate taken too soon, intercepted by a deadly collapse on the practice field. Dana Payne's story is one of determination and inspiration

Tameka Smith spends a lot of time at Millington High School, meeting with her son's teachers, talking with his classmates and attending football games, even though her son hasn't played a game in nine months.

"He's not here but they look up at me and say, 'this one's for Dana.'  So I still be out here hollering and screaming," Smith explained.

15-year-old Dana Payne was a 140 pound sophomore who was quickly working his way into the starting lineup on the Trojans' football team.

"He pretty much thought he was invincible," head football coach Chris Michael said. "He played hard. He practiced hard."

During football practice last August, tragedy struck on the 20 yard line.

"They said he had ran a play and he said, 'Come on let's run it again - same play - over.' And I guess that was the last one," Tameka Smith said.

Dana took a hard hit to the torso and collapsed.

Smith got a call from a teammate and beat the ambulance to Lebonheur Children's hospital.

"They didn't even tell me that he was dying. They didn't tell me that," Smith said.

The impact of the blow triggered a fatal asthma attack. Smith was holding her son's hand when he died about an hour later.

"I didn't know if I was gonna cry right then or what," she said. "I was like no, no, you're kidding me."

The loss sent shock waves through Millington High School.

"Just one of those kids that everybody loved," Coach Michael said.

"Something that you do not imagine coming into this job," principal Mark Neal said. "You're here to teach kids and watch them grow. You don't ever think you'll see one pass."

"It's hard for anybody to lose a child," said Smith.

Rather than running from reminders of that tragic day, Smith ran right back to Millington High School to help her son's classmates heal. 

The school recently retired Dana Payne's football jersey.

"He was lost in the battle and he'll never be forgotten," Michael said.

On his 16th birthday family and friends celebrated with a party in Northaven Park.

"We will always have him in our thoughts and every day that goes by there's not a day that we don't think about Dana," his aunt, Rene Rockiemore said.

"It shows that there's still love. He's still on everybody's heart," said Dana's grandmother, Diana Smith.

Tameka Smith's heart may never fully heal. 

"When I'm at home I still go to his room, you know. He got big pictures of him so I just go in and water his flowers and say good morning and open his blinds up," she said.

She finds comfort crossing the 20 yard line.

"I still see him smiling."

And she honors the son she lost with a message for parents everywhere. 

"Don't let your children be scared to play sports. Let them play," she urged.

Dana's mom said the one silver lining to her son's story is that he died doing what he loved.

And his community loved him back.

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