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Keith Payne taking advantage of 'Dr. Phil sessions' with Mike London

Before the season began, first-year Virginia coach Mike London and fifth-year senior tailback Keith Payne drew up a contract of sorts that stipulated the standards Payne had to meet in order to remain in London's good graces. Payne had spent some time away from football after leaving the team prior to the start of the 2009 season because of disagreements with former Coach Al Groh over the player's role in the offense. He also spent the summer in what London called his "academic doghouse."

The agreement mandated guidelines that Payne had to follow in the classroom, in public, in the weight room, during practice and even in the kitchen. Thus far, Payne has lived up to those standards, and consequently his role in the Virginia offense has continued to grow as the season has progressed. Payne leads the team in rushing attempts (83), rushing yards (402) and touchdowns (eight). He also has proven a capable receiving threat out of the backfield, having hauled in six receptions for 59 yards.

"I'm Missouri; I'm a show-me state," London said Thursday. "Don't talk about it. Be about it. And during the course of camp, the latter part of camp, the first couple of games, he started to do the things that we talked about and became more of a team player than an 'I' player. Keith's got skills, and as big as he is ... he's got a skill and an ability that's kind of rare because he's so big.

"If he continues to keep doing the things that I'm asking him to do about classroom expectations and things like that, then he'll keep getting opportunities to do what he's doing. If he chooses to revert back to old ways, then those opportunities will be limited or taken away. But right now, he's taking advantage of, you know, these Dr. Phil sessions that we've had in the office here."

Though Payne has not started a game this season, his workload and responsibilities steadily have increased. At the season's outset, Payne was used largely as a short-yardage and goal line option. Last Saturday against North Carolina, Payne carried the ball 23 times and tallied 107 yards.

"He was running so hard that we kept him in a little bit more and a little bit more," Virginia running backs coach Mike Faragalli said Wednesday. "It has grown a little bit. We'll still play two or three different guys, but he's certainly been doing a great job lately."

Indeed, sophomore Perry Jones remains the starter. In the first three games of the season, Jones carried the ball 32 times for 207 yards (6.5 yards per carry), while Payne tallied 40 carries for 217 yards (5.4 yards per carry). Two of Virginia's first three opponents were division I-AA teams.

In the past three contests, Jones has recorded 29 carries for 135 yards (4.6 yards per carry), while Payne has registered 43 carries for 185 yards (4.3 yards per carry).

So, Payne's number of carries hasn't shot up a whole bunch since the beginning of the season, but he's certainly being inserted into more diverse circumstances now than he was in September.

One reason for that has been Payne's ability to manage his weight. He's listed at 6 feet 3 and 255 pounds, and London said Payne's actual weight "is right around there." All of the Virginia players are weighed after practice every day, and London said Payne has been down at 252 pounds at times this season.

"To me, he could stand to lose about maybe seven pounds or so," London said. "He's been getting down. The key thing is he hasn't been going up, and that's a little bit of an issue about just ballooning and going up. (Strength and conditioning coach Brandon] Hourigan has done some extra conditioning, done some extra running, done some things like that.

"When you see him run and you see his ability to hold his pads and run away from people and break tackles, the strength and stamina that he has currently seems to fit for him. As long as he's handling the weight, he's not gassed, he's not tired, he's still getting productive yards, we're moving the ball, he's catching the ball out of the backfield, as long as he can do that and be productive, then we'll just watch where he is as far as weight. But I think right now he's at a place that he feels good at a playing weight."

On Sept. 20, Payne said his weight was a "big deal" to Hourigan when the two first met. In fact, Payne recalled that the first thing Hourigan said to him was that he needed to get his weight down. It has since been less of an issue, according to Payne, and given how well he's performed on the field, it's easy to see why.

"My body just does what it wants," Payne said. "I don't know how to fix it or I don't know if it's wrong or if it's right, but I just try to play to what I'm at."

By Steve Yanda  | October 21, 2010; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Football  
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Next: More on David Watford's consideration of enrolling at Virginia a semester early

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