It wasn’t likely many people predicted Alabama’s 308-pound nose tackle was going to catch a touchdown pass at the Sugar Bowl.
Da’Ron Payne did.
The night before Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl, Payne had a dream he’d be the Crimson Tide’s hero in helping the school reach its third consecutive trip to the national championship.
On Monday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it all came true.
In the course of a little less than four mutes of game time, Payne not only reeled in his first interception, but he put the finishing touches on Alabama's domination with a touchdown reception at the goal line, completing the premonition.
Payne had never intercepted a ball in his college career, and he sure never received a pass from any of the Crimson Tide’s quarterbacks, either.
That was all before Monday.
For his efforts, Payne was named the game's defensive MVP alongside quarterback Jalen Hurts as the offensive MVP.
"It's just a blessing, and I'm happy for the opportunity," Payne said. "I was happy my team went out there and worked hard today."
Payne appeared to be caught off guard by the interception falling his way after he had just been driven back off the line of scrimmage by Clemson center Justin Falcinelli.
Before Payne could turn back around to face Kelly Bryant, the Clemson quarterback was hit as he threw, sending his wobbly pass just a few yards past the line of scrimmage — right into the hands of Payne.
The second-team all-SEC selection rumbled his way down the field for 21 yards to the Clemson 42 before a horse-collar tackle brought him down with an extra 15 yards for the penalty.
But Payne wasn’t quite done yet.
Alabama coach Nick Saban must have seen something he liked, because seven plays later Payne lined up at fullback to finish the job. Payne rolled into the flats, where he caught the first touchdown since his senior year of high school when he lined up as a tight end.
Payne said he was surprised by the play call. Alabama had practiced the pass, but he didn't think coaches would use it.
Payne’s performance ended up being the crushing blow Alabama was searching for at the time to take control of the game. Before then, Clemson had kept the score close — 10-6 at the time of the interception — despite Alabama controlling just about every phase of the game.
Defensively, Payne and his teammates suffocated Clemson all night, holding the Tigers to zero offensive yards in the first quarter.
The Clemson rushing attack, which averaged 204.1 yards per game going into the night, failed to crack 100 yards in New Orleans.
Payne's pick party was later joined by Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson, who intercepted Bryant on the next drive. Except Wilson didn’t need to come in on offense to reach the end zone — he took his pick back 18 yards for the touchdown.
"We didn't come into the game thinking we were underdogs," said Payne, whose team was seeded lower but was actually favored over Clemson. "We knew we had put in the work, and we were ready tonight."