Gi’Bran Payne still has a tweet from Feb. 27 pinned at the top of his Twitter profile that includes a graphic including what at the time were his top five schools — Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Northwestern and Penn State.
None of those five were the school to which he ended up committing on Monday. The four-star running back from LaSalle High School in Cincinnati chose Indiana not only over those schools but over reported offers from Boston College, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Indiana moved that fast, from an afterthought to Payne’s obvious new home in just a few months. He took an unofficial visit on Sunday and was convinced it was time to commit.
“I kinda knew IU was home before I went on the visit,” Payne said Monday. “Just because of the relationship between me and coach (Deland) McCullough and the long relationship between me and coach (Tom) Allen, who’s been in touch since sophomore year. But after the visit yesterday, it just sealed it. The place was amazing, beautiful campus, all the coaches showed love. The players that were there did too. It was just a great experience.”
The faith Allen has shown in Payne mattered to him, he said, because he missed much of last season at LaSalle with a wrist injury, but McCullough was the game changer.
It took McCullough a while to get in touch, Payne said, but when he did, his impact was immediate. It mattered to Payne that McCullough was willing to share his life story with him, it mattered that McCullough had the experience of coaching in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl ring, and it mattered that McCullough made it clear he was a major priority.
“Coach McCullough is really the best in the game,” Payne said. “I wanted to be coached by the best. … He told me I was the best and the only guy he was recruiting. When he first got to Indiana, we didn’t really talk and it took about a month until we started having a conversation. But he told me I was the only guy he wanted and he wasn’t offering any other running backs unless I said no.”
Payne is an impressive talent even though he doesn’t have that long of a track record because of his injury as a junior. As a sophomore, he rushed for 790 yards and nine touchdowns and also caught eight passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns to help LaSalle to the Ohio Division II state title. He also recorded 41 tackles, including four sacks at the Lancer position, which is LaSalle’s linebacker/safety hybrid spot. At 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, he has a combination of power and speed — he runs an 11.2-second 100-meter dash and helped LaSalle’s 4×100-meter relay team to a state championship — which makes him a constant threat to break big runs.
“I think he’s got great vision,” LaSalle coach Patrick McLaughlin said. “He sees the field very well. He’s one of those kids who can make a cut on a dime or he can see a hole, plant his foot in the ground and he doesn’t lose speed. He’s got great vision. He’s got a low center of gravity, so he’s hard to bring down. I’ve very rarely seen the first tackler bring him down. When he makes a cut and he decides to go, he’s hard to catch, so that makes him a home-run threat.”
He also has a high football IQ, and the Lancers shift him around on offense to do whatever possible to get him the ball.
“We’ll get him the ball in a variety of different ways offensively,” McLaughlin said. “He’ll be in the backfield whether we’re in the pistol or we’re in shotgun. We’ll run him in motion. We’ll put him out as a No. 1 receiver or No. 2 receiver. He’s someone the offense will run through. … Every play, the defense is going to have to find him.”
Going forward, he’s going to be driven. Despite the recruiting attention, he felt a little forgotten about because of all the time he missed as a junior.
“I feel kind of disrespected off the injury,” Payne said. “People don’t think I can come back. People don’t think I’ll be the same me as I was sophomore year and the beginning of junior year. That’s just motivation for me to become stronger.”
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