Whenever Nicholas Payne hears someone call out “Anthony” on the Sacramento State campus, he instinctively stops and turns around.
Nicholas and Anthony Payne often are mistaken for one another.
“We’re so used to it now,” Nicholas explained, “it’s just a part of us.”
They are identical twins, which is rare in itself (3.3 per 1,000 births in the United States). Even more rare is that they play the same position, cornerback, for Sacramento State’s football team.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Anthony has 13 tackles and an interception while 6-1, 180-pound Nicholas has 11 tackles and a forced fumble for the Hornets, 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the Big Sky Conference heading into Saturday night’s game against Northern Colorado (2-2, 0-2) at Hornet Stadium.
“They’re really positive kids who work hard and bring a lot to the table for us,” said Sac State coach Jody Sears. “They look the same but have different personalities. Nicholas is the quieter one; Anthony the more outspoken.”
It used to be easier for friends and teammates to tell them apart. Nicholas wore dreadlocks and later a gold-dyed frohawk. This year they both sport the same conservative, close-cropped hairstyles.
They have been almost inseparable on and off the football field since they started playing as children in San Diego. Nicholas played free safety and Anthony strong safety in youth football. Both switched to cornerback at Mira Mesa High School, a position they thought would better suit their slight frames.
But there was DNA at work, too.
Their father, Caesar, played cornerback at San Diego State for Don Coryell, whose Aztecs’ team went 11-0 in 1969 and won the Pasadena Bowl over Boston University.
“We’ve never seen any film of him, but in our garage there are lots of pictures and write-ups in the newspaper from when he was playing,” Nicholas said. “We were able to live off those photos and a lot of his teammates were like uncles to us growing up. They would always tell us how good he was. So we just fed off that, those stories.”
After all-league careers at Mira Mesa, the Paynes wanted to play college football together. Although there was interest from several schools in taking them as a package deal as walk-ons, only Sac State offered scholarships.
“We were undersized coming out of high school,” Nicholas said. “We weighed 155 to 160 pounds. That was the real knock on us.”
Anthony said there are no regrets about their decisions.
“Sac State was the only one that gave us the opportunity to play Division I football on scholarship,” he said. “We love playing here. It’s been a lot of fun.”
But challenging at times, too.
The brothers were unable to enroll together at Sac State because Anthony had to first improve his grades. He stayed in San Diego during the 2011 fall semester taking two classes that would make him eligible.
“That was probably the hardest time for us,” Anthony said. “That was the first time we were separated from one another for more than a week. But I think it made us even closer and made me work even harder, academically.”
Nicholas has spent much of his Sac State career dealing with injuries. He missed the 2011 and ’13 seasons and played just three games in ’14 before suffering an ACL injury in his right knee.
Anthony, a starter the past two years, said one of his proudest moments was seeing his brother get his first career start against Weber State on Sept. 19.
“He’s been through so much with all his injuries,” Anthony said. “Just seeing him over there motivates me to play even harder. We’ve just got that trust. I guess it’s that twin factor.”
In addition to having their football family – coaches and teammates – in Sacramento,
the Paynes’ parents fly up from San Diego to attend home games and usually bring along a posse of family and friends.
“My mom is always booking flights and calling our family members and asking, ‘What games do you want to go to?’ ” Anthony said. “I think we had at least 11 family members at the Eastern Washington game. It makes it even better seeing them out there.”
The postgame reunion sometimes includes a critique from Dad.
“We’re always accepting of his advice because we know he played at a high level and he’s been there and done that,” Anthony said.
And when Caesar tosses out some archaic advice, his sons can’t help but smile.
“He’ll start talking, and we’ll have to tell him, ‘Dad we don’t do that anymore,’ ” Nicholas said.
“We’ll occasionally tell him, ‘Dad, you played a long time ago,’ ” Anthony said.
Here are five other college football twins playing at the same school
- Evan (defensive back) and Elliott Berry (linebacker), Tennessee
- Andrew Dowell (linebacker) and David (cornerback) Dowell, Michigan State
- Shaquill (cornerback) and Shaquem (safety) Griffin, Central Florida
- Tony (guard) and Alfredo (guard) Morales, Texas Tech
- Keyjuan (defensive back) and Taronn (wide receiver) Selby, Delaware State