Three ‘frontrunners’ for Payne

IRONDALE, Ala. -- After helping his team to a narrow season-opening win, five-star Daron Payne chimed in on the latest within his recruitment, calling a trio of SEC West programs “frontrunners.”

Daron Payne and Irondale (Ala.) Shades Valley High edged Florence (Ala.) High in a 37-35 shootout on Friday, despite the five-star’s sprained ankle. He played most of the first half and in certain situations over the final two frames.

“It was rough, that’s where conditioning plays a part,” he said. “I still need to get in shape. But my team toughed it out and we came out with the W. I think we can take it all the way.”

Adding that he had to “fight through the pain” with the ankle issue, he learned a lot about his teammates and their will to win. Three-star Keith Mixon, a Mississippi State commitment, clinched the victory with a late touchdown grab on fourth-and-13. The two remain close, and Payne says he has the Bulldogs in his ear “every single day.”

As for the in-state schools, Payne included each atop his list.

“It slowed down, but I still have 'Bama, Auburn and Mississippi State as my frontrunners,” he said.

While the pressure of the recruiting process has slowed, each program has found a way to make recent contact with the state of Alabama’s No. 1 prospect. He was recently in Starkville, with Mixon for camp, and both AU and UA are likely to host him on campus for unofficial visits, beginning this coming weekend at Auburn.

“Every now and then we talk,” he said of the Tigers’ staff. “I just talked to (Gus) Malzahn a couple of days ago. He just said I was his top player and to keep doing what I’m doing."

Alabama’s contact has been casual, though often the program Payne says recruits him the hardest.

“(With Mario) Cristobal, we just talk about what’s going on and maybe what I have for dinner,” he said, laughing.

Payne, who doesn’t expect to miss any time with the ankle issue, maintained that he’ll likely make his commitment sometime in December or January. Making the call at the Under Armour All-America Game is a possibility, as well.

Video of Payne’s interception from Friday night:

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