Payne ready to live up to expectations
Daron Payne knows as the only five-star athlete playing in the Alabama vs. Mississippi High School All-Star Classic, every eye will be on the mammoth Shades Valley defensive lineman in Saturday’s game.
His goals for the game reflect that. When asked what he hoped to show fans in the game that kicks off at noon at Cramton Bowl, Payne’s plan was simple.
“Just that I can live up to the five-star standards, I play hard and I can pass rush,” he said.
If this week’s practice is any indication, Payne will get people’s attention. The Alabama offensive line is considered one of the best ever to suit up for the home state, a large yet athletic group that includes Southeastern Conference commitments Logan Stenberg of James Clemens (Kentucky), Brandon Kennedy of Wetumpka (Alabama), Darryl Williams of Bessemer City (Mississippi State), Tyler Carr of Southside-Gadsden (Auburn) and Lester Cotton of Central-Tuscaloosa (Alabama).
Payne has dominated them in practice this week. While Alabama all-star coach Jamey DuBose stops short of making the comparison to Terrence Cody and Josh Chapman, a pair of oversized nose tackles at Alabama six years ago that alternated with each other to remain fresh in leading the Crimson Tide to a national championship, it’s clear that DuBose thinks the only thing holding back the 6-foot-3, 335-pound Payne is Payne himself.
“Coming in, you never know what to expect, but I can tell you from the first snap of ‘team,’ he dominated the middle against some really good offensive linemen,” DuBose said. “He’s as good as he wants to be. I’m pretty sure they’ll try to trim him down when he goes off to college to move a little better, but for his size he moves really, really great. He’s got tremendous strength. I don’t know how many five stars I’ve seen along the way but I’d say he’s as good as I’ve seen up front at the nose.”
Payne has enjoyed his week of practice with the Alabama all-stars, saying the talent across the defensive front keeps opposing linemen from paying too much attention to him with double-teams and triple-teams, something he faced at Shades Valley this season.
“It’s really high tempo,” Payne said. “It’s a different speed than I’m used to in high school. There’s been a lot of competition, a lot of great players, so I love it.”
His offers include just about every school in the Southeast, including LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas and Clemson, but he has narrowed his choices to Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. He plans to announce his final decision at the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2.
“Right now, my biggest factor will probably be playing time and the coaching schemes,” Payne said. “I grew up an Auburn fan and they’re losing a lot of D-linemen so that’ll be a great chance for me to come in and make a big impact early.”
Shades Valley teammate Keith Mixon, who is playing in the Alabama vs. Mississippi game as well, is committed to Mississippi State.
“Mississippi State, I really don’t know much, but my teammate is committed there and the couple of trips I’ve been down there I really liked it,” Payne said. “And I love the coaches down there.”
Many consider Alabama the team to beat. Payne has taken several unofficial trips to Tuscaloosa, including last year’s A-Day game and games against Florida and Auburn.
“At Alabama, it’s all about hard work,” Payne said. “There’s no gimmick to anything about it. Any way I go, I’ll get developed like I want to.”
Payne has built a good relationship with Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal, who is recruiting him, as well as Auburn assistant Rodney Garner. For that reason, he said he isn’t concerned about Auburn’s defensive woes last fall or having his decision affected by the Tigers’ choice of defensive coordinator to replace Ellis Johnson.
“No, because coach Garner is a great coach,” Payne said. “He’ll get me right anyway.”
Alabama has a six-game winning streak in the all-star series with Mississippi and Payne said the home team is just as determined to extend the streak as the visitors are in snapping it.
“We talk about how important it is to keep it in state,” he said, “how much this game means to everybody in Alabama.”