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'I came back for a reason': Kwity Paye ready to chase rings in return to Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

While others jumped and moved on, Kwity Paye waited. He was here for a reason, back in Ann Arbor, when he could have left following last season. After the Big Ten postponed fall sports, including football, in August, he heard from many saying it would be in his best interest to leave and start the pre-NFL Draft process early.

Instead, Paye, who says he's not easily swayed, stayed and continued to practice for a Michigan season that might never come.

Michigan defensive lineman Kwity Paye had 50 tackles last season, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

Last month the Big Ten did reinstate football, and as the Wolverines prepare for the abbreviated Big Ten season that opens Oct. 24 at Minnesota, the senior defensive end said he wasn’t ever going anywhere if a season was to begin at some point this fall.

“I’ve gotten advice from a million people whether it’s, ‘Oh, you should leave,’ or ‘Oh, declare now and get the process rolling,’ and blah, blah, blah,” Paye said on a Zoom call with reporters Thursday. “For me, I tell people this all the time: I came back for a reason. I didn’t come back just to say, ‘Oh, I was coming back.’ I came back to play a season. That was the only thing going through my head. That’s why I stayed so long with hopes of playing this season.

“That just shows you their goals, because if someone knows you came back for a season and they’re trying to advise you just to leave, or agents saying, ‘Just leave,’ that’s kind of like, what’s your real interest here? Are you looking out for my best interests or yours? I came back, I wanted to graduate, I wanted to play a season, and that’s exactly what I did. I’m not really the type of person to take advice from other people. As my mom would say, I’m real stubborn, and once I have my heart on something I like to see it through. I came here for four years, and yeah, I’m happy with that.”

If the season had been pushed to the winter, which was on the table as the Big Ten examined options before the availability of rapid COVID-19 testing allowed the league to plan on a nine-game season beginning later this month, Paye said he would have had to discuss options with his mother.

Now, though, the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Paye is getting ready for his final season and along with Aidan Hutchinson at the other defensive end spot, Michigan coaches think they have a special duo.

“Those two guys, if there’s a better tandem, I wouldn’t know it and I wouldn’t want it, because I like my guys,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said recently.

Defensive line coach Shaun Nua, speaking this week on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show, echoed Brown’s comment and described why Paye and Hutchinson are unique.

“Probably the two best I’ve ever had,” Nua said. “Kwity Paye is literally a freak. Aidan Hutchinson, his passion for the game and his passion for being a perfectionist is unmatched.

“The pressure’s on them now. Not pressure, but the ball is in their court. It’s time to shine.”

Paye said he isn’t about the hype and the coaches don’t buy into it, either.

“They’ll call you out if you’re being soft in any way or if you’re not practicing the way you’re supposed to,” he said. “Friends from back home will send me articles and be like, ‘Hey, Kwity, look what they’re saying about you.’ First thing, I don’t like this because when people see all the hype and people see other people talking good about them, they get complacent. They wouldn’t work as hard as they used to. I just like to stay humble and continue doing what I have to do.”

Paye had 50 tackles last season and 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Hutchinson had 68 tackles, 10 for loss and 4.5 sacks. Both have worked hard individually during the offseason to fine-tune their games. For Paye, that means improving his pass rush.

With Josh Uche gone and now in the NFL, Michigan’s defense took a hit in terms of having that go-to in the pass-rush. Paye said he and Hutchinson — they call themselves “Salt and Pepper” — have made this a priority to expand their games and give the defense that constant threat.

“I feel like I didn’t show enough of it last year, and that’s just because I feel like I didn’t focus on it a lot last year,” he said. “But, this offseason I really focused on my go-to move and then my counter and just really worked on my pass-rush stuff just because last year I would say I was more of a run defender.”

He returned for this season because he wants to play, he wants to improve, and he really, really wants some jewelry. Michigan hasn’t been able to get over the Ohio State hump and hasn’t been to a Big Ten championship game, and then there’s been the issue of not pulling off bowl wins.

“Everybody on this team, since the past four years, we don’t have any rings,” Paye said. “Even our fifth years (seniors), we don’t have any rings, bowl games, championships, we don’t have nothing. We’re all hungry. This is my last go around and, yeah, I’m trying to get a ring this year.

“I came to the university to be a champion and I’m yet to be a champion. I’m trying to accomplish that one thing because I feel like I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. I feel like this is a great organization, I feel like we’ve done a lot of great things, we’ve just got to finish at the end of the season. I feel like this year is the year to do it because it’s my last year. I’m giving it all I’ve got, this team is giving it all we’ve got. Just trying to get that ring.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis