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Payne’s recruiting journey closes after his signing with Crusaders

Posted: February 19, 2018 3:44 p.m.
Updated: February 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

LUGOFF-ELGIN’S CAMERON PAYNE signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and football-playing pursuits at North Greenville University while flanked by his parents, Jesse and Jenny Payne. Standing are L-E assistant principal Jeff Carraway (left) and Demons’ head football coach Matt Campbell.

Not all high school student-athletes enjoyed being wooed by college coaches and being told how great they are and what the school and the program of which the coaches are associated can do for them during and after their collegiate career.

Some young men and women are not fans of the hard sell and will bide their time before finding the right fit. After all, their years in college will help shape what they will do in their adult life.

Lugoff-Elgin senior Cameron Payne was put off by the entire recruiting process which he became a part of after having led the Demons with 173 tackles in 2017. While schools and coaches came calling, he was not happy with what they were selling. Then North Greenville University entered the picture and made their pitch. Shortly thereafter, Payne was excited about what lied ahead in the Upstate.

It did not take long before the outside linebacker and two-sport athlete decided to sign a National Letter of Intent with coach Jeff Farrington’s Crusaders. It was a sweet ending to a sometimes sour journey.

“In the beginning, I didn’t like the whole recruiting process,” Payne said candidly, “but I felt really comfortable at NGU. I liked all the coaches. We all got along. I liked their weight room and things like that. It just seemed like it all came together.”

It would be hard not to like just the numbers, alone, which Payne put up from his outside linebacking position for Matt Campbell’s Demons last fall. Of the 173 tackles which the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder racked up last year, 86 were solo stops. His four caused fumbles and two quarterback pressures led the team while his 13 tackles for loss and four quarterback sacks were second on the squad.

While those statistics are all well and good, it is Payne’s unique skill set and the ability to add pounds to his long frame which also appealed to college coaches.

As a wrestler who qualified for this weekend’s 4A state championships at 220 pounds, there is enough room for Payne to grow that should the Crusaders decide they need to put Payne on the defensive line, he could be moved there.

“You never know what Cam’s going to be,” Campbell said of his three-year starter. “You get him up there in that strength program … our strength program here is excellent but up there, they will have more time with him. 

“They’re going to be able to work with him and do more things with him. Then, when you get him on the training table and he’s getting good solid meals, he’s a kid who, honestly, can blow up to 250 to 260 pounds and can play at defensive end.”

For the present, Payne was recruited to play outside linebacker and plans on staying there or, moving to wherever he is needed on defense. After having to stay at or below 220 pounds during wrestling season, Payne did say he anticipates putting on additional weight and muscle to play on the second line of defense for the NCAA Division II program.

“They want me to gain about 30 more pounds over the course of my college years,” Payne said of NGU’s path for him. “It will probably be a lot easier now that I won’t be wrestling.”

Payne did admit that playing with his hand in the dirt could be in the cards as a Crusader. He will, however, enter college as a linebacker.

“They want to stay me out at OLB (outside linebacker), as a bandit. Because of my frame, when I get bigger, they want me to play defensive end,” he said looking into the long-term. “(The NGU coaching staff) liked my size and my frame. They like how quick I am.”

Payne said he started thinking about being able to play football at the collegiate level following his sophomore season when he played his way onto the L-E varsity squad. A year later, in 2016, he registered 116 stops which cemented his place on more than one college recruiting board.

“It was probably around my sophomore year when I started getting serious about it and started looking at college players and what I should be at that point,” Payne said of his developing into a recruitable student-athlete. “That was when I really started getting serious about it.”

In watching Payne develop in his three seasons at the Demon helm, Campbell has seen a young man who checks a lot of the boxes when it comes to what defensive coaches are looking for when they watch players on film. Campbell said Payne is even better when seen in person than in a game video.

“Cam moves well enough and tests well enough with his agilities that he gives you a long-framed body that can play out there in space at outside linebacker,” Campbell said.

“The biggest thing he has to worry about is getting his weight up. He has all the ability to do what they are going to ask him to do at outside linebacker. On the defensive line, though, there is going to be a learning curve for him.”

Campbell, a former tight end at South Carolina, knows what goes into making a shift in position. When he got into the NFL, he was asked to put on weight and moved to the interior offensive line. For now, Campbell sees NGU giving NGU Payne a look at his natural high school position before deciding to either keep him there or move him along the front line.

“For Cam, who has played outside linebacker all these years, it is going to be easier for him to do that, along with his weight,” Campbell said of Payne’s starting his college career at outside linebacker. “But it may also be in one year or two years where, eventually, I see him playing with his hand down in the dirt.”

No matter where he plays, Cameron Payne knows the game will change from the high school to the college level. The one part which he will try to keep constant will be the reason he embraced playing football to begin with as a youngster.

“Hitting people. That’s my favorite part of the game,” he said with a smile. “On the field, though, it will be more fast-paced. It’s not as basic as high school.”

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