Wolverines DE Kwity Paye asked to deliver in amplified role
Atlanta — Kwity Paye was always known as the quiet type. A go-about-his-business young man, the second of five boys in his family who followed around his older brother and watched and listened but didn’t speak up all that much.
So when Paye had to step into a larger role as a Michigan defensive end this season, filling in the gap left while Rashan Gary was out with a shoulder injury, he had to also take on a larger personality.
Paye will get another opportunity to start, his fourth of the season, when Michigan plays Florida in the Peach Bowl on Saturday. Gary, a junior, announced shortly after the Ohio State game he would forego his final season to pursue the NFL Draft, so that puts Paye in a starting role at one end along with Chase Winovich making his final collegiate start.
“Before he left, he was like, ‘Play your game. You’ve been here before,’” Paye said of Gary’s message to him. “He was just like, ‘It’s all up to you now. Just let the world know who Kwity Paye is. Just keep working.’”
What will the world find out?
“We’ll just have to see on Dec. 29,” Paye, a sophomore said, smiling. “I’m going to bring that intensity, try to match Chase’s intensity, make sure I give it everything I’ve got.”
What he has found out about himself is he has a voice, and it’s time to use it. While that’s not second nature to him, Paye said he’s learning.
“I grew up a quiet kid, said Paye, the second oldest behind brother, Komotay Koffie, who plays football for New Mexico State. They have three younger brothers. “He’s loud. I always followed him. He got me into trouble, but I was always behind him.
“I have to be more vocal now, I feel like. And I feel like there are certain times I know I can’t be the guy who’s off to the side by myself. I have to interact with the team and make sure we have the attitude we have going into games that we have in practice.”
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Paye, who said he’d like to see how he plays at 270, made three starts this season and was voted All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media.
He said the Michigan State game was his favorite he has “ever” played because of the intensity.
“They were jawing at us, we were jawing back at them,” Paye said. “It was just fun.”
That also was the game where defensive coordinator Don Brown said he noticed a different Paye emerging. In the Michigan State game, Brown saw Paye go from being typically quiet and doing his job to being loud and doing his job.
“He was in another zone,” Brown said at the time. “I had no idea who I was talking to.
“The development of Kwity Paye has been special to say the least.”
During that point of the season, defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said he also detected a change in Paye.
“Kwity is a really quiet person until something happens,” Kemp said this fall. “Then you look over and you’re like, ‘That was Kwity saying that,’ or ‘That was Kwity doing that.’ It’s fun getting to see when Kwity brings out his personality. He does it on the field a lot. It’s fun getting to play with that and see that come out of him.”
After the MSU game, Paye started to get more and more comfortable the following weeks against Wisconsin and Maryland. He admits his confidence was “shaky” but the more he was in the game, the better he felt about himself.
“As time went on, I was kinda like, yeah, I could play,” he said.
Gaining that confidence was a big thing for Paye. He said defensive line coach Greg Mattison was vital in helping him develop it.
“Last year I didn’t play much,” Paye said. “Coach Matty would throw me in for experience. In spring he was like, ‘You can’t be that same guy anymore. You have step up, you have to contribute, you have to give those guys a blow when they need a blow.’ I had to step it up in practice and game time.
“It was coach Matty who (pushed) to get me going. He would pull me aside, ‘Come on, you have to get going. You have to pick it up.’ Those days I’d be kind of tired, he’d come to me and pull me aside and have that talk with me.”
Paye said the team, especially the defense, has tried to move on from the 62-39 debacle at Ohio State in the final regular season and turned the focus to earning the 11th win of the season against Florida.
“When we first came back to practice, you could tell we were all still bummed about the game,” Paye said. “There was one meeting with coach Brown, he was just like, ‘Hey, we lost that game. We messed up big, but we have to put it In the back of our mind and just keep moving forward because we have another game that we have to play. We have to win that game.’ We all took it to heart and at the same time we all have to have a short memory.
“For sure (11 wins), will be huge for our school. Not many teams have done it before. (We want) to get that 11th win and go into next season feeling good about ourselves and making sure we’re in that top five.”
And now quiet Paye is evolving into a louder, leader version of himself.
“It’s a cool feeling,” he said. “I have to step up now. I have to be the guy.”
Michigan vs. Florida
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Records: Michigan 10-2; Florida 9-3
Line: Michigan by 6