Payton wants to be at USC

CARSON, Calif. — Tristan Payton committed to USC last summer, but with an official visit to Louisville and whispers of the Trojans parting ways with the three-star wide out, his pledge remains stronger than ever.

Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast wide receiver Tristan Payton got another taste of what Southern California is all about after spending last week practicing and playing in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. And he gave USC fans a full serving of his abilities with his MVP performance in the Sunday night contest at the StubHub Center.

“It feels pretty good,” Payton said of being named MVP. “Being coached by the Marines all week, they prepared me for this. They’re teaching us leadership abilities. Not only making us a better athlete, but making us a better man. So that’s a great thing.”

The 6-foot, 185-pound USC receiver commit caught three passes for 101 yards, including a pair of touchdowns in the often-offensively challenged 24-3 East victory over the West squad.

“I had been out to Cali twice before I came out this time, so it just felt at home when I came out again,” Payton said. “Just getting used to the Cali lifestyle.”

In a game that featured only 10 plays of 15 or more yards and just six of those plays going for more than 20 yards, Payton had two big impact plays.

Before the game, Payton said he planned to go out, “do what I do and show ‘em what Tristan Payton is about. What USC is going to get.” He did that.

He gave the East team a 10-0 halftime lead after catching a 31-yard touchdown pass from Vanderbilt commit Kyle Shurmur in the second quarter. Payton was wide open on the play after running an outstanding stop and go route that Oklahoma four-star cornerback commit P.J. Mbanasor bit on hard.

Payton caught a short out route late in the first half. He turned it upfield and made the first defender miss turning it into a 12-yard gain, but it was his 58-yard touchdown with just under three minutes remaining in the game that sealed the deal. The East team had earlier run a reverse and built off the play by faking the reverse and throwing downfield. The offensive line gave Virginia Tech commit Dwayne Lawson time and the quarterback had an easy throw to Payton, who was 15 yards behind the defense.

He had jogged toward the middle of the field feigning the run before bursting upfield and leaving four-star Nebraska cornerback commit, Eric Lee — the top player from the state of Colorado — behind. Payton caught the pass and strolled into the end zone for the final score of the game.

While he won the MVP award, Payton would have easily have been the frontrunner for best trashtalker as well. Unafraid to back down from bigger defensive backs or even defensive linemen on the West squad, the only thing that moved as quickly as his feet seemed to be his mouth.

“Hey, the West was talking smack too. I had to talk smack back. But I backed it up, that’s the most important thing," Payton said with a grin.

Payton also wasn’t afraid to talk about his love for USC. It has been rumored that when the ink is dry on National Signing Day, Payton may not be a part of the Trojans’ 2015 class. But from his words to the USC attire he sported throughout the week, Payton remains steadfast on his commitment.

“The USC coaches, they know what’s up. They know I’m solid, so they're not really worried about what people say,” Payton said. “I’ve got a good relationship with all of the coaches. That’s a great thing. They’re not worried about me decommitting. I’m not decommitting. Fight On, baby!”

Payton said he hasn’t talked to the USC coaches recently because of the dead period.

“The last time I talked to them, they just told me to keep doing what I do. Just keep fighting and keep pushing myself in school and keep going.”

He has yet to take his official visit to USC. He said that will come on the weekend of January 16 and that he doesn’t have any other visits planned.

Payton is excited about the group of recruits USC is putting together, including one of the recruits that stood out to Payton -- recent four-star running back commit Ronald Jones II.

“He’s going to be a nice one. I watched him in the Under Armour game. Nice run. I love it,” Payton said. “The class is actually great. Getting new athletes in and making the program better, so that’s a great thing.”

A new crop of top-flight prospects will bring fresh depth-chart battles to Howard Jones Field and that’s something that brings a sly smirk to Payton’s face.

“Some of the wide receivers, they’re actually pretty good, but you just have to go out and you have to battle,” he said. “[I’m] looking forward to the competition. Just making me a better athlete and that’s a great thing. I want to get better. I want to go out and battle every day. It’s gonna just make me better.”

Until his visit, Payton is focused on recruiting for the Trojans.

“Oh yea! Got to. Fight On, baby!”

After winning MVP Sunday night, Payton took a photo with East teammate Tyrone Wheatley Jr., a USC tight end/defensive end target. But Payton told him he couldn’t be in Wheatley's picture unless the big man threw up the two-fingered “Fight On!” symbol.

“I’ve talked to him a little bit about USC. He loves it out here,” Wheatley said of Payton, who Wheatley had predicted before the game would “make some big plays.”

During the down time between practices, Payton also spent some time with West defensive lineman Noah Jefferson — his opponent for the week, but his potential USC teammate over the next four years.

“Actually, me and Noah have been out here chilling, hanging out, just getting to know each other a little better. Just getting ready to enroll at USC after graduation, so just waiting on the moment,” Payton said before the game. “I want Noah to do his best and I’m going to bring what I bring to the table. I just want both of us to go out there and perform and show what USC is getting.”

Both Payton and Jefferson, who had four tackles and two sacks, did exactly that. They both gave the Trojan fans a sample of what could be.

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