Still, Payton became the first member of USC’s Class of 2012 when the Oaks Christian High School (Westlake Village, Calif.,) star committed back in March as a sophomore. Payton, who stands at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds now, set records for receiving yards (1,088 yards) and receiving touchdowns (18) as a sophomore at in a passing system that used to feature former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
An ankle injury caused Payton to miss two of Oaks Christian’s first three games this season, so he hasn’t put up the kind of numbers he did as a sophomore, but he still has 48 receptions for 593 yards and six touchdowns in nine games.
“I wasn’t fully recovered until a couple of weeks ago, but our team keeps winning and everything’s looking good,” he said. “We’re in the second round of the playoffs with the #1 seed.”
The postseason continues Friday night with a matchup against Thousand Oaks and Payton hopes his impact will increase.
“I’m finally starting to get everything back and everything’s flowing,” he said.
Payton calls his commitment to USC solid, but acknowledges he is still listening to other schools, including Washington, California, UCLA and Notre Dame. Payton is certainly interested in Notre Dame and Clausen is one of the reasons why.
“I know Jimmy real well,” said Payton, who works out with Clausen when the now-Carolina Panther returns to Oaks Christian to throw. “The last time we talked about Notre Dame was about the coaching situation and how it that was changing. I asked him if he knew Coach Kelly, he said he really didn’t know him that well.
“Jimmy had nothing bad to say about Notre Dame and that’s exactly why I want to go out there. He said it was great academically, the campus life was nice and the football is top notch.”
Clausen always said he loved California, but one of the reasons he spurned USC for South Bend was the desire to see other areas of the country. Payton feels the same way.
“That’s it right there,” he said. “I want to see the whole country. I want to see what Notre Dame has over there in South Bend. I definitely want to see the whole country and see everything.”
Payton admits outside of his conversations with Clausen, he doesn’t know a whole lot about Notre Dame.
“I just know that there’s a ton of tradition over there, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m trying to get over there pretty soon. This spring for sure.”
Still, Payton says a school will have to blow his mind to get him to change his commitment from the Trojans.
“It would not only have to blow my mind, it would have to blow my whole family’s mind,” he said.
Payton grew up right down the street from USC’s campus and it has always been his dream school.
“I love the school,” he said of USC. “Everything about the place is what I’m looking for, but like I said before, I still want to see other parts of the country. I want to see what other schools and if I like them.”
He said the NCAA sanctions won’t play any role in his decision.
“It doesn’t affect me at all,” he said. “I don’t even think about it. I forget every day that they’re on sanctions.”
Payton will get a closer look at the Irish Saturday night when he attends the USC-Notre Dame game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. He’ll be there as a USC commit, but not everyone he’ll be with will be cheering for the Trojans.
“My girlfriend’s dad went to Notre Dame, so she’s a huge Notre Dame,” said Payton. “It’ll be interesting.”
Yes it will.
While he was meeting with Lakewood head coach Thadd MacNeal, Kelly learned about a couple young receiver prospects on the Lancer squad. Notre Dame assistant Mike Denbrock was back at Lakewood during the Irish bye week last month to check in with MacNeal about Darius Powe and Malik Gilmore, now juniors.
Powe has offers from most of the Pac-10 along with Miami and several others, but the 6-foot-2, 186-pound wideout has his father handling everything involved with his recruitment right now. Powe does say that California, Ohio State and Notre Dame stand out to him at the present time. Powe doesn’t have a Notre Dame offer, but MacNeal expects that to change.
“I presume they’ll offer him in the spring,” the coach said.
Gilmore stands at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and doesn’t have the offers Powe does, but that could be attributed to the fact he missed his entire sophomore season with a torn meniscus. Gilmore also has the potential to start reeling in big-time offers and is hearing from the Irish along with UCLA, Miami, LSU, California, Washington, Colorado, Duke, Oregon and Stanford.
“He’s a fantastic player,” MacNeal said of Gilmore. “He’s big. He’s 6-3, almost 200 pounds. He’s got a lot of upside, he’s got a good work ethic and he keeps improving each week. He’s going to be a dominating guy here in Southern California.
“Darius is a little smaller, but he’s still a big guy. He also plays free safety and returns punts.”
One of Brian Kelly’s first recruiting trips as Notre Dame’s head coach was to Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Calif., to secure the signature of Justin Utupo for the recruiting class of 2010.
Playing together for their junior seasons, Powe and Gilmore helped Lakewood to a 9-1 regular season record and a spot in the CIF-Pac 5 playoffs. Powe has caught 31 passes for 619 yards and six touchdowns while Gilmore has pulled down 21 passes for 316 yards and five scores. Gilmore’s presence has helped opened the field up more for Powe in Lakewood’s multiple offense.
“They can’t double-cover Darius,” MacNeal said. “They can’t put safeties over the top and things like that because they’ve got to deal with Malik on the backside. (Malik's) a vertical threat, he’s a great post-route runner. If you throw him a hitch, he always turns it into a nine or 10-yard gain, if not more.”
The duo are also close off the field.
“We’re like best friends,” said Powe, who hopes he can attend the same college as Gilmore as well. “We talk about that all of the time.”
MacNeal believes that both of his junior receivers would be fits in Kelly’s offense.
“Oh heck yeah,” he said. “I know Coach Kelly is looking for big, strong receivers and these guys fit that mold without a doubt.”
Utupo was also in Lakewood during the bye week and told everyone back home he’s enjoying his time at Notre Dame. The factors that Gilmore would look at when deciding certainly will help the Irish’s chances should they decide to offer.
“Academics and then the intensity during practice and things like that,” Gilmore said. “I like a school with a big fan base, tradition as well and good football.”
Gilmore will lean on his parents to help him, but will make his own decision
“Ultimately, it’s up to me and they’ll back me whatever school I choose to go to,” he said.
And there were certainly be more conversations between himself and Powe.
Union Grove (McDonough,Ga.) 2012 running back T.J. Moon has been giving opposing players nightmares all season. The last thing any linebacker or defensive back wanted to see was number 20 coming through the line heading their way. These unfortunate souls would have two choices, get out of the way or get run over.
"Once he heard about his age he said, 'We're going to have to play him down on a younger team.' I told him no, he is going to play up with your older team and I want you to watch what he does. He ended up playing him at running back and eventually becoming a captain on the team and the youngest . He just stood out amongst the older kids. He played in an all-star game against with several other kids that became and are now Division I prospects around the state of Georgia such as Delano Deshields and D.J. Hill.
South Carolina landed the top running back in the nation last year in Marcus Lattimore and he is paying dividends in his first season. This year, the Gamecocks are in the running for No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney, a defensive end from Rock Hill, S.C., and recently accepted commitments from three other coveted prospects.
Brandon Shell is a 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman that hails from Goose Creek, S.C. Shell has the footwork and size needed to excel at the left tackle position. There is a wide discrepancy in the evaluation of his skills amongst the various recruiting services. ESPN has him as a three-star prospect, which is low compared to some of the other sites and compared to the quality of his offer list, which included Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Miami, and Tennessee.
The Gamecocks also went across the border to get two Georgia stars: Kadetrix Marcus and Kyle Harris. Marcus is a 6-foot-1, 191-pound safety from Stone Mountain that carries a four-star ESPN ranking and is listed as the nation’s No. 17 safety. Through nine games in 2010, the Stephenson High School product has made 60 tackles and has picked off three passes. He chose South Carolina over Tennessee, Auburn, Stanford, and Clemson.
Harris will line up next to Shell on the offensive line, though at 6-foot-3, 258-pounds he has some weight to add before he is ready to contribute. He plays tackle in high school, but his measurables will force him inside at the college level. The Lindale, Ga. native had committed previously to Georgia Tech and he also considered Tennessee and Ole Miss.
The Tennessee Volunteers need a talent infusion and getting DeAnthony Arnett is a good start. The 6-foot-0, 170-pounder from Saginaw, Mich. is the No. 8 wide receiver and No. 55 overall prospect according to ESPN. He’s not big and is not a burner, but he runs precise routes and catches everything that comes his way, as his junior year statistics of 41 catches for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns attest. The Vols beat out Michigan, Michigan State, USC, and California to get Arnett.
Nebraska received a commitment from ESPN’s No. 3 running back and No. 10 prospect regardless of position, Aaron Green of San Antonio. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Green is a shifty back with good speed. His brother, Andrew, is a redshirt freshman defensive back for the Cornhuskers. Despite the family connections, Aaron gave a long look to Texas and also California and Florida State.
Along with Green, the Huskers added two other quality recruits. Taariq Allen is a relatively unheralded wide receiver from the Rivers School in Weston, Mass. He has good size at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, but the level of competition that he faces in high school is pretty weak. Despite that, Allen had offers from Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Tulane.
Level of competition is not a question at Collins High School in Klein, Texas where Charles Jackson currently is enrolled. The future Husker cornerback is a strong, physical player despite having a wiry body type. ESPN ranks him as the No. 5 corner prospect in America and he is part of the ESPNU 150. His finalists were Nebraska and Arkansas despite offers from Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M.
USC is enduring their first probationary season and North Carolina awaits word on whether they will have to do the same in 2011. But both programs received key commitments in the recent weeks. The Tar Heels added linebacker Norkeithus Otis, an outside linebacker from Gastonia, N.C. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Otis had 111 tackles and 11 sacks in 2009, which prompted ESPN to rate him as the No. 13 outside linebacker in the class of 2011.
The Trojans actually received two commitments. Steve Dillon is a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end that is very athletic, but very raw. The Palmdale, Calif. piled up 74 tackles and nine sacks as a junior. The three-star prospect selected USC over Utah and UCLA.
The other USC commit came from punter Kris Albarado from Lake Charles, La. ESPN has Alabarado as a kicker in their database, but he is slated to be a punter at the next level. His only other FBS offer came from Northwestern.
And the Florida Gators added a running back when Mike Blakely of Bradenton, Fla. gave them his commitment. Blakely is a lot like Aaron Green in that he hits a hole in a hurry and is not big, but is still very strong. He had 525 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in Manatee High School’s first five games this fall. Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, and USC were some of the teams in the mix to land Blakely.
Of course, Notre Dame fans are well aware that Florida also persuaded linebacker Clay Burton to switch his commitment from the Irish to the Gators.
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