Ambry Thomas and Jalen Mayfield have already announced their intentions to forgo whatever season might happen this year and go straight to the NFL Draft. But senior defensive lineman Kwity Paye — who has been ranked in the top 50 draft prospects by Pro Football Focus, ESPN’s Todd McShay and CBS Sports — has yet to make that decision.

For Paye, a lot is riding on when — and if — the Big Ten decides to resume its football season. Over the past few weeks, there have been rumors about start dates anytime between October to March. But for now, the rumors are just that, and Paye knows as well as anyone how quickly things can change. After all, the Big Ten released a new conference-only schedule then postponed the season five days later.

“I’m just kind of waiting on what decision the Big Ten and the NCAA is gonna make because we don’t know what’s going on yet,” Paye said on a Zoom call Thursday. “… I paid real close attention to whether they’ll delay the season or whether they’ll cancel the season … but they just kept giving false hope so I just kinda stopped getting my hopes up, stopped looking up all that stuff, just been doing what I gotta do here with the team. When they make their decision, I’ll be ready.”

The lack of consistent messaging around a potential season start has been frustrating throughout the program. One report said the Big Ten could start as early as mid-October — a rumor Jim Harbaugh has used to motivate his players to be ready to go at any time. Another has teams playing in domed NFL stadiums beginning in January. Another would start the season at Thanksgiving. Through it all, Michigan has been practicing, albeit without pads.

Junior offensive tackle Ryan Hayes noted that the coaches know little more than he does. But part of the fallout of the uncertainty is that decisions like Paye’s hang in the balance.

“We were more in acceptance of it (when the season was originally postponed),” Hayes said. “We were definitely frustrated and upset, we thought it was the final word. With all these new rumors coming out, it’s definitely been a little frustrating and an emotional roller coaster because you don’t really know what to believe and what not to believe.”

Regardless of what happens with the season, Paye is focusing on being ready for whatever comes next, whether that’s taking the field at Michigan Stadium or training for the NFL Draft.

Whether or not Paye plays another snap for the Wolverines, he’s a near-lock to be drafted. That means a lot for Paye. His family immigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone when he was a child before settling in Rhode Island, a state that’s produced few NFL players. Growing up, Paye looked up to former NFL safety Will Blackmon, who also attended Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick. But in Rhode Island, the NFL was seen as a long shot.

“It’s for sure cool, just coming from a small state, looking up to people, there’s not really much to look up to,” Paye said. “ … Growing up, when I would say, ‘I want to go to the NFL,’ people would be like, ‘Oh man, that’s never gonna happen. Be in some other dreams.’ And I’m almost there, I can basically touch it.”

Paye’s focus is now to stay humble throughout the process. When he starts buying into the hype, he says, his work ethic disappears. He also recognizes that regardless of whether he plays in Michigan’s next game, the clock is winding down on his time with the team. He’ll have to make a decision at some point, but for now, Paye’s goal is to soak up every last moment, regardless of how those moments come.

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