Like a lot of prep school graduates, as in the case of FUMA and Hargrave (where Payton almost wound up) there is time and an environment perfect for getting focused.
While the Feb. 2 Signing Day nears and high school phenom Toney Baker's decision draws even closer, Payton may not be on the top of fans' wish lists. That's OK by him, as putting in overtime, doing the dirty work and being a complete back, as well as becoming a solid student, is all that consumes Payton right now.
"The tradition there at North Carolina is to use the running back quite a bit, and that's attractive to me," Payton said. "I've seen many games on TV…Chad Scott, Ronnie McGill…they've done well.
"I love Coach Gary Tranquill's system. It's great. It fits me well."
Payton loves the I-Formation the Tar Heels consistently utilize. It plays to his skills of being an inside-out runner that can also setup wide, or run swing routs. And as is every offensive coach's dream – his strongest passion might be blocking.
"He's compact, strong, fast," said FUMA coach John Shuman, who also said Payton reminds him of Natrone Means. "He can outrun you, run through you and he can catch the football."
However, on Sunday's "Inside Carolina" Radio Show, Payton said he's like Scott – UNC's 2004 rushing leader, adding he also has the ability to make people miss.
"I've added more power this year, and I will continue to do that up until camp," Payton said. "I think I can thrive in that offense. I've always learned to be an I-back – very versatile. I think it will play to my skills very well. From that point, it will work out very well for me."
Payton got his UNC scholarship offer – in no uncertain terms – following FUMA's scrimmage with the UNC JVs in Chapel Hill last fall.
Payton ran for 175 yards and a touchdown, and caught several passes. He also took a shovel pass for 35 yards, but it was called back on a penalty.
"They said, ‘This is the guy we want,'" Shuman said he was told by one UNC assistant following the game.
"I had a great game," recollected Payton. "I played 110-percent. I played all out. I pass protected; I chopped down everybody that blitzed through. That's what they saw, because there are a million running backs out there who can run the ball. But, can they think through the game? Can they pass protect? Can they do the other things without the football?"
Payton, at 5-9, 195 pounds, led Fork Union in rushing this past year, scoring seven touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes.
He graduated from Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran, but needed to "clean up his academics" as Shuman put it. Shuman said he was confident Payton had done all of the necessary work and was on pace to qualify for immediate enrollment at UNC after his spring semester at FUMA.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…