He may not look it, but Daron Payne is indeed a freshman.
Standing at 6 feet 2 inches with a 315-pound frame, Payne was called a man-child by teammate Reggie Ragland before Alabama’s season opener against Wisconsin. Ragland wasn’t exactly referring to Payne’s size, however. He was talking about his practice mentality.
“Coach Bo [Davis] has been on him, coach [Nick] Saban has been on him, coach [Kirby] Smart has been on him,” Ragland said. “He’s been a man-child and doing what he has to do from day one since he got here.”
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Payne graduated from Shades Valley High School. He committed to The University of Alabama over rival Auburn University —along with other schools–on Jan. 2.
As a five-star recruit, Payne was ranked at No. 19 on Rivals.com’s 2015 top 100 football prospects.
Even before he played in an actual collegiate game, Saban was confident in Payne’s abilities. He saw opportunities with Payne as an inside defensive player from the beginning.
“He’s very explosive, quick, can play with power and we’re very pleased with the progress he’s made,” Saban said before the season opener against Wisconsin.
Since then, Payne became a big part–literally and figuratively–of Alabama’s defensive line.
“The guys that they keep bringing in are even bigger and better than the year before,” offensive lineman Ryan Kelly said.
Despite the defensive lineman’s size, Kelly said Payne is able to move really well and use his strength and hands to his advantage. Five games into the season and Kelly said he’s already seen a lot of growth in Payne. He has a bright future ahead of him.
“You add him to all the other guys we have on the defensive line, and that’s pretty scary,” Kelly said.
Just because he’s a freshman doesn’t mean he’s the baby of the defensive line. Jonathan Allen, who shares the line with Payne, said it’s rare for a freshman to be so strong.
“Looking at him, you’d think he was a redshirt junior, an upperclassman,” he said. “You wouldn’t think he was a freshman.”
The list goes on and on, Allen said, in regards to all Payne has done to impress him. His strength ceases to amaze him.
Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton likes having Payne in front of him at nose guard.
“He’s a grown man,” he said. “He makes my job easier. He takes on double teams. That helps me, Reggie [Ragland], and Reuben [Foster] go make plays. He’s definitely a great player.”
Ragland was in the same boat as Hamilton, even back at the beginning of the season. He said Payne–along with Darren Lake–is doing a good job at nose guard. He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing–striking blockers and keeping guys off of Ragland and Hamilton.
Although it was surprising for him to see a true freshman step up in such a way, Hamilton said Payne is an extremely hard worker, so he can see how he’s come this far already–freshman or not.
Payne has yet to start a game, but he’s played in all five games and totaled three tackles, a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry. He may not be at the top of the stat sheets, but he is making his presence known.
While he said Payne is improving day in and day out, Saban hopes to see more consistency from him as the season progresses.
“You’ve got to keep in mind that young players that have ability have to learn how to play with consistency, make sure that they’re doing their job each and every play, and we were pleased with what Daron [Payne] has done.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports