Photo: CSUSM

Photo: CSUSM

Stefawn Payne is an active duty staff sergeant in the Marines. He’s also a 31-year-old freshman on the Cal State San Marcos men’s basketball team.

He reeks of ICY HOT for good reason. The guys he practices with and competes against are 18 to 20-year-olds whose joints are still in their prime.

Payne put his college basketball career on hold when he enlisted in the military right after high school. He has gone on eight deployments and served this country with honor.

Now he’s attending CSUSM to complete a degree in Global Studies. Once he graduates, he will become a second lieutenant.

Payne played high school ball and joined in on pickup games on bases all over the world. That, and a stellar shooting performance during tryouts was enough to get him a spot on the roster.

Some questioned his decision to try out.

“It’s been kind of how I’ve lived my life,” Payne told the San Diego Union Tribune. “Doing what I did in the military and the level I reached, the attitude was, ‘If I’m selected for this unit or not, at least I have the guts to try.’ The guys around me in the Marines all had that mindset. We may not be the best or the fastest, but we’re going to give it everything we have.

“If I didn’t make the basketball team, I could say I tried at 31. At least I know I tried and gave it my all.”

He made it, and he’s getting a little bit of playing time this season thanks to his tenacious defense.

With Payne’s leadership abilities, the coaching staff was thrilled to not only have him on the bench, but in the locker room, too.

“Everything you’re teaching the guys in terms of teamwork, and sacrifice, and work ethic, and fighting through adversity, he’s lived,” Cougars head coach B.J. Foster said.

For Payne’s full story, check out the San Diego Union Tribune.