Texas Two-Step

A long way from their Houston home, Kendrick Payne and Josh Hill now make plays at Cal.

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Evan Walbridge/Staff


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Josh Hill wouldn't be at Cal if not for Kendrick Payne.

When Cal was recruiting Payne, Hill entered the Bears' radar at Payne's mention. Now, the Texas tandem has combined for 18 starts for the Cal defense.

"I knew in high school Josh was always a smart player, always was one of the guys I looked to in the secondary who I knew would come with it every week," Payne says. "Anybody like that you want to bring 'em with you and you always want to play with 'em."

It was more than just a teammate Payne wanted to bring with him to Berkeley. It was a piece of home.

Payne, a nose tackle, transferred from a different district to enter Klein Forest High in Houston, Texas, and Hill took to him instantly. When they weren't at school or on the field, the two were at each other's houses, mingling with each other's families.

"It's been a nice little friendship since high school," Hill says. "We've been cool, just staying connected. We knew we could do great things."

While the Klein Forest team fell short of making it to the championship-level squad Hill and Payne yearned for it to be, the two now play at the highest level of college football.

Payne, was able to make it to the next stage first. Having kept a careful tally of his units, he graduated a semester early to enroll at Cal and take part in spring practices.

Hill, a defensive back, may have helped Payne adjust to high school, but Payne returned the favor to get his comrade up to speed in college. The communication didn't start when Hill stepped on the Cal campus, but rather when Payne was first immersed in the world of collegiate academics and football in the spring.

"He was telling me how it was, his chances of playing, the chances of me coming and playing," Hill says. "He just told me how different it was, what I should kind of look for, being an outsider, everybody kind of looking at me because I'm a boy from Houston or whatever."

After all, Berkeley and Houston are not exactly mirror municipalities. About 2,000 miles may separate the cities, but it can seem like there's a whole universe in between the two.

"Berkeley is its own world," Hill says. "It's good because you see a different side of the world. But you always like your home and the people that you grew up with and all that."

The distance from their families was difficult, but they had the stability of their relationship to rely on every day.

Just as in high school, the majority of those days were spent together. Between practicing, watching film, working out and enjoying down time, Hill and Payne would log more hours together in Berkeley than in Houston.

"We just kind of got closer," Hill says. "We're the only two out here from the same area, so you know, gotta stay together and talk about the good ol' days."

Their unassuming natures don't stop them from flashing their more playful sides with teammates.

"They're characters," senior Derrick Hill says. "We're always with KP, but when we get with Josh and KP, they're some funny characters together."

But the similarities between the two don't end there.

In the classroom, both Payne and Hill are considering majoring in social welfare. They are driven not only as students of the game and but also as students in the classroom.

"(Payne) made it clear that he wanted to success on and off the field he had a lot of places recruiting him and attend a university that offered both academics and good football," says Tosh Lupoi, the Bears' defensive line coach.

For Hill, however, attaching importance to the student aspect of student-athlete came after coming to college. And that approach has only aided his play, helping him to take a more academic approach to the game.

During film sessions, both Payne and Hill see things that many upperclassmen don't. The two are known as two of the most keen analysts of that week's opposing team.

For Payne, that fine attention to detail has resulted in an adeptness against double-teams that has warranted the praise of his teammates.

"His ability to look at film and evaluate plays and be able to focus and know certain things and see certain tendencies makes him a better player," Derrick Hill says.

Josh Hill's expert film review has helped him smooth this season's transition from cornerback to safety.

"(Josh) is really one of the most technically disciplined guys I've got," defensive backs coach Al Simmons says. "He's a guy that can also take a coaching point from the classroom to the field without having to get a rep on the field."

"He doesn't need an individual drill to walk through what we talked about. Most people do, but he doesn't."

Despite sharing so many experiences together, the two don't always react to everything the same way.

Their first major test was having to sit out during the 2008 season.

Payne saw action in the first two games of 2008 after a solid spring before sustaining a season-ending knee injury that would force him to medically redshirt.

Hill didn't have a medical reason barring him from playing, he just needed to grow into college football.

While Payne saw the season off the field as an opportunity to further adjust to Cal and emerge even hungrier for playing time, Hill wasn't so keen on sitting on the bench every game while his teammates played.

But both realized that the time off made them better players.

And enduring the hardship together - it made them better friends.

Tags: KENDRICK PAYNE, JOSH HILL, CAL FOOTBALL


Contact Christina Jones and Jonathan Kuperberg at [email protected]



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