IRONDALE, Ala.- Class of 2015 five-star defensive tackle Daron Payne (Shades Valley, Ala.) was extremely impressive during the first game of his junior season- a 38-15 win against Oak Mountain last Friday night.
The current No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the Class of 2015, Daron Payne (Shades Valley, Ala.), No. 94, lines up in his season opener last Friday night.
Payne emerged on the national recruiting radar after dominating summer camps at Alabama and Auburn. Those types of settings for defensive tackle prospects certainly have a way of determining athleticism, quickness- things of that nature- but many times those that shine in that setting with such little in-pads varsity experience aren't necessarily dominant high school players- many aren't until college- some (Dontari Poe) won't reach their potential until the NFL.
Payne is not one a case of upside alone. As we will find out, he certainly has it, but after watching him last Friday, he's already quite a ball player at the high school level.
It wasn’t so much about the plays Payne made against Oak Mountain- though he did have some nice tackles for loss, pressures and was impressive in pursuit- was much as it was about how much he impacted the game. Oak Mountain threw double teams at him most plays, triple teamed him some plays and always seemed mindful of his presence on every offensive play.
Even with the increased on-field attention, Payne is determined to remain productive.
“It just means I have to work harder during the week,” he said.
That could be dangerous for his opponents. The 6-foot-4, 327-pound Payne is strong (he has a squat in the 600 pound range and a bench in the 415 pound range), has light feet, elite hand quickness and can close. In a recruiting cycle that features outstanding defensive tackle prospects like five-stars Trent Thompson (Albany, Ga./Westover), Tim Settle (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson), Jacob Daniel (Clovis, Calif./North) and bigger defensive ends like five-star Terry Beckner Jr. (East St. Louis, Ill.) and four-star Albert Huggins (Orangeburg, S.C./Orangeburg-Wilkinson) that could slide inside in college to reach their highest upside, he stands out a little above the pack, which is saying something. That’s the reason 247Sports currently ranks him as the No. 1 2015 defensive tackle in the country.
It’s clear he’s a dominating high school player, but the most intriguing thing could be that he’s just scratching the surface of his potential. Shades Valley head coach Bill Smith spoke to that and drew a comparison to one of the recent No. 1 prospects in the country.
“He still doesn’t know how good he can be,” Smith said. “When he understands how good he can be- who is the Ole Miss kid I watched- Robert Nkemdiche- (Payne) reminds me of him a lot. I don’t know how tall that (Nkemdiche) is, but they are similar.”
Daron Payne is only 15 years-old and has a bench press max of more than 400 pounds.
Just like Nkemdiche, Payne is a rare blend of size and speed/athleticism.
“(Payne) carries 325 pounds like he’s 250,” Smith said. “Like on the speed sweep when he made the tackle in the backfield. There’s a reason (recruiting networks) have got him ranked where he is.”
Payne also is not finished growing or physically maturing. He doesn’t turn 16 until May.
“He’s the first 15-year old I’ve had to bench more than 400,” Smith said. “He’s the first 15-year old I’ve had to power clean more than 300.”
On the recruiting front, it’s hard to get great players out of Alabama (though Florida State, which has elite redshirt freshman and former Hueytown star Jameis Winston at quarterback, is thankful they were able to beat the odds) and signs during the early stages of Payne’s recruitment appear to be pointing toward him staying close.
Alabama is No. 1. Auburn is No. 2, Payne said following the game last Friday night.
Clemson, which has a Birmingham-area native and Alabama graduate in Dabo Swinney as its head coach, got Payne on campus Saturday night for its 38-35 win against Georgia. The Tigers offered Payne while he was there and could end up being a factor.
Payne has committed to playing in the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Smith will coach in the contest.
“It’s a real honor to be invited (to the Army Bowl),” Payne said.
Payne wasn't the only eye-catcher Friday night.
Another potential FBS-level recruit for the 2015 class at Shades Valley is all-purpose back Keith Mixon. The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder could end up projecting at receiver in college- he has excellent hands and uses his explosiveness and speed to rack up yards after the catch. In the first half of Friday’s game, he had seven receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He also finished the contest with 89 rushing yards on just four carries. Mixon visited Clemson on Saturday with Payne.