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ANOTHER VALLEY: Alexandria mourns passing of ex-player, current assistant coach Payne

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Former Alexandria head coach Frank Tucker, right, discusses strategy with assistant coach Tres Payne during a 2017 game against Jacksonville. Payne died Tuesday morning after a month-long battle with COVID-19. He was 53. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

ALEXANDRIA — Damon Parr learned offensive-line play under Tres Payne as a sophomore at Pleasant Valley and hoped to learn more from him as a senior, after transferring to Alexandria.

There’s just something about the way Payne coached the position.

“He made me love football, the way he coached,” Parr said.

Sadly, Parr never got to play a game under Payne at Alexandria. The longtime assistant coach in football and wrestling who spent most of his career at Alexandria in two stints died Tuesday morning after a month-long battle with COVID-19. He was 53.

Alexandria High School principal Jason Deason announced the news on the school’s Facebook page.

“It is with heavy hearts and deep regret that we must inform you that we have lost one of our own brilliant educators, Coach Tres Payne,” the post read. “Coach Payne was the epitome of everything Alexandria. He loved his community, his family, and his job.”

The school later announced funeral services will be 2 p.m. Thursday at Leatherwood Baptist Church. Burial will follow the service in Hebron Baptist Church Cemetery.

Speakers will include Frank Tucker, an Alexandria graduate, longtime assistant football coach under Larry Ginn and head coach from 2007-17.

Payne leaves behind his wife of 31 years, Doris, and two children … daughter Savannah and son Skyler.

The family will receive friends starting at 11:30 a.m. and requested donations in Payne’s memory, made to Noble Bank and Trust, in lieu of flowers.

Payne had been hospitalized at Gadsden Regional Medical Center since Aug. 11. His wife kept Alexandria head coach Todd Ginn updated through her husband’s illness.

“That’s the strange thing about this situation now,” Ginn said. “Normally, when somebody goes into the hospital, you can go see them and that kind of stuff.

“Ever since he left practice one day, and then you hear from his wife that he wasn’t doing good and they needed to go to the hospital, and it kind of just progresses from there. All you can do is pray and hope and let the good Lord work.”

Payne’s death comes nearly two weeks after former Valley Cubs football lineman and baseball standout Layton Ellison died. Ellison, who graduated in 2020, died in an accident while doing line-repair work for Alabama Power after Hurricane Ida.

News of Payne’s passing inspired social-media tributes from the Alexandria school community.

“Without question he was one of the most passionate coaches I have ever worked with,” Alexandria wrestling coach Frank Hartzog posted to the school’s wrestling page. “He also loved wrestling more than anyone I know at Alexandria High school.

“But more than anything, he loved students & watching them succeed in life, even when that meant they had to learn the hard lessons of losing, having a coach call you out & being pushed past your comfort zone.”

Payne played for Alexandria’s 1985 state championship football team, under Lou Scales, and graduated in 1986. He coached at Alexandria for most of his career. He also coached at Pleasant Valley two years ago and West End-Walnut Grove in 2020, before returning to Alexandria.

Senior lineman Braxton Tucker played under Payne as a freshman and was looking forward to finishing his high school career under him.

“He was as solid as they come,” Tucker said before Tuesday’s rainy practice. “He kept it straight. Our work ethic, our attitudes in practice, he knew how important that was. It starts with us, the line up front. We have to be tough, if we’re going to be a good team.”

Players tried as best they could to follow Payne’s progress in the hospital.

“We heard he was in bad shape,” senior lineman Braxton Kiker said. “Me personally, I didn’t know the fullest extent of it until later on.”

Ginn said Payne was Alexandria through and through, a walking, talking personification of the community and its school who “will be missed.” Ginn guessed that Payne would tell all grieving his passing to push on.

“I’d be up in Heaven celebrating, and I feel like TP is doing the same thing right now,” Ginn said. “The ones of us that are left down here, we can mourn, but I know he would say, ‘Quit wasting your time, and get back to life, because you only get one chance to live it, and then get up here and join me.’”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.