Payne is UT's pleasure

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A huge Wednesday commitment has Tennessee halfway to landing perhaps the finest cornerback tandem in high school football.

Four-star recruit D'Andre Payne of Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington D.C., a 5-foot-10, 165-pounder rated America's No. 26 Class of 2014 cornerback prospect by FOX Sports NEXT, went public with his commitment to the Vols on Wednesday.

Friendship Collegiate Academy teammate Jalen Tabor, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder rated the No. 5 cornerback prospect for the Class of '14, remains uncommitted. He, too, is accorded four stars and he, too, is considering the Big Orange.

Whether or not the Vols close the deal on Tabor, the commitment of Payne is a real coup for a Tennessee secondary that has struggled mightily in recent years. He attended the Vols' recent "family day," and came away visibly impressed, especially with head coach Butch Jones, secondary coach Willie Martinez and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, his primary recruiter.

"I've had a relationship with Coach Thigpen for a while now, since he was at Auburn," Payne said. "I like Coach Martinez. He's a high-energy guy. Coach Jones ... man, he's an awesome coach. There's some good things going on down here."

The newest Vol commitment views Jones as an extension of his family.

"He's like another father figure, with me being eight hours away," Payne said. "My dad's just a phone call away but to have coaches who are like father figures is a good thing. They're high-energy guys and they love their guys, take care of them."

Payne checks out Knoxville and Neyland Stadium while on a visit back in mid-March.
(Danny Parker/
Payne said he spent his visit "getting to know the coaches more, bonding with the players, seeing how it is down here. It's a big family thing down here. That's what I like."

One highlight of Family Day was attending the first spring scrimmage of the Butch Jones era. Payne was amazed by the intensity level of Tennessee's players and coaches alike.

"The energy was real high," he said. "Families were out, recruits were here, so I think the guys had to put on a show and show what Tennessee's all about."

A versatile athlete, Payne also stars at wide receiver for his high school team. He's ticketed for defense at the next level, however.

"I play cornerback and receiver but I'm going to try to play cornerback in college," he said. "I have good technique, good hips, good feet. I'm quick and can change direction. I've got good instincts and good speed."

In addition to being a superior football player, Payne is a superior student. He says he carries a 3.2 grade-point average, which is why his list of finalists included some academic heavyweights such as Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia and Vanderbilt.

Being a forward-thinking young man, Payne knew exactly what he was looking for in a college program.

"Early playing time is a key thing," he said. "And academics. I want to major in sports management, and they've got a good field here at Tennessee in that.

"The coaching staff is important, how everything goes down. I'm looking for a family figure in the school. I want everything to be a big family, where they care about each other and there's no problems."

D'Andre Payne found all of those attributes at Tennessee. That's why he pulled the trigger on Wednesday.

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