Chris Payne says you can ignore his size and also the spelling of his last name.
“You can tell the fans to spell it ‘p-a-i-n’,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Payne is a 5-foot-10, 190-pound linebacker who doesn’t care that he’s seemingly too small for his position. Playing for a 10-2 team this season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he was credited with 78 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, a fumble recovery and four pass breakups.
On Sunday, Payne said he had orally committed to Texas Tech, choosing the Red Raiders over scholarship offers from Kentucky, South Florida and Michigan State. Payne plans to transfer at mid-term and join the Tech program in January. He will be a redshirt sophomore, meaning he has three years to play three seasons.
“The whole time I was there, I had a great time, talking to the academic lady, even talking to the trainers,” said Payne, who visited Tech on Thursday and Friday. “It’s like a big family. I never felt like I was away from home. I just loved the whole vibe and the whole city.”
Tech secured two commitments Sunday and lost one. Austin Stewart, a 6-2, 200-pound safety from Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., also committed to the Red Raiders. Tech has seven pledges in the last five days from junior-college players — four from California schools and three from Mississippi. All plan to be mid-term transfers.
Meanwhile, PurpleMenace.com, the Rivals network affiliate for TCU, reported Haltom tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (6-6, 267) switched his commitment from Tech to the Horned Frogs. Vaitai had been pledged to Tech since last spring.
Payne played in the box as a stack outside linebacker in the Bulldogs’ 3-3-5 defense. He could be a safety in Tech’s 4-2-5.
“Chris is an outstanding linebacker -- can really run, very physical, very active,” Mississippi Gulf Coast coach Steve Campbell said. “He’s real good at tackling in space, and I think he’s very effective against a spread offense that can throw the football around, because he’s got real good coverage skills and he’s physical enough to play in box, but he runs well enough to be very effective in coverage.”
Payne said choosing Tech was made easier because two Mississippi Gulf Coast teammates -- wide receiver Javon Bell and offensive tackle Rashad Fortenberry -- also have pledged to Tech and plan to enroll at mid-term. The three of them helped the Bulldogs go 10-2 this season and finish with a No. 6 national ranking.
Payne said he’s convinced Tech coach Tommy Tuberville can get the Red Raiders back on track quickly after they sank to 5-7 in 2011, their first losing season since 1992.
“The coaching staff (at Mississippi Gulf Coast) taught us how to win, because we never lost down there,” Payne said. “Knowing what coach Tuberville has going on, I know we have no choice but to win.
“He’s never too up. He’s never too down. I’m telling you, we can win some big games, because you know he’s not going to rattle under pressure.”
Payne, who was born and raised in Columbia, S.C., signed with South Carolina out of high school, but did not meet freshman eligibility requirements. He went to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before landing at Mississippi Gulf Coast for the last year and a half.
Payne underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus before this season, causing him to miss the start of the season. Payne is listed on his team’s web site at 5-10 and 215 pounds, but he said he shed weight after coming back from the surgery.
“I’m not big, but I feel like I’m 6-5, 230 on the field,” he said. “My mindset is like that the whole time I’m on the field. I’m very physical and aggressive. I can tackle well, I’ve got great speed and I’m a big hitter. I think that’s one of my best assets. I can make a tackle, but make them feel it at the same time.”
Campball said that’s an accurate assessment.
“He’s so physical and likes to be around the football,” the coach said, “so we moved him down to linebacker to utilize his speed. He is extremely fast for a linebacker. Yeah, he’s a contact football player. He likes to hit.”
Stewart played on a North Carolina state championship team in 2010, then played as a true freshman this season at Pierce College. He was credited with 26 tackles, a pass breakup and returned 20 kickoffs for a 22.3-yard average.
Because he met NCAA freshman eligibility requirements coming out of high school, he does not have to graduate from his community college before transferring to Tech. He will have 4½ years to play three seasons for the Red Raiders.
“He’s very athletic. He’s very tall. He has great speed,” said Pierce coach Efrain Martinez, whose team went 3-7. “I think he led Southern California (junior colleges) in kickoff returns, so that really showed his athletic ability.”
Martinez described Stewart as “a true free safety.”
“He’s about 6-1, 195 to 200 pounds and he’s just very athletic — great hips, great feet, just great movement all across the board.”
Wednesday is the first day mid-term transfers can sign financial-aid agreements. Tech is still hoping to land Pierce College cornerback Kasseim Everett and East Mississippi Community College defensive tackle Damien Jacobs. Everett has narrowed his finalists to Tech and Oklahoma, and Jacobs is a Tennessee pledge.
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TEXAS TECH COMMITMENTS
The following players have made commitments to sign with Texas Tech. The national signing period begins Wednesday for mid-term transfers and Feb. 1 for spring graduates.
Clayton Nicholas, 6-3, 210, QB, Abilene Cooper; Quinton White, 5-8, 188, RB, College Station A&M Consolidated; Keenon Ward, 5-10, 180, IR, Snyder; Sadale Foster, 5-8, 190, IR-KR, Riverside (Calif.) CC/Riverside North HS; Javon Bell, 6-0, 184, WR, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC/Jacksonville (Fla.) Ribault HS; Reginald Davis, 6-1, 188, WR, Tenaha; Dominique Wheeler, 6-2, 175, WR, Crockett; Jared Kaster, 6-4, 268, C, Altair Rice Consolidated; Rashad Fortenberry, 6-5, 283, OT, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC/Franklinton (La.) Bowling Green HS; Trey Keenan, 6-6, 270, OT, Argyle; Halapoulivaati Vaitai, 6-6 1/2, 267, OT, Haltom; Michael Starts, 6-4, 280, OT-DL, Waco La Vega; Lee Adams, 6-3, 265, DE, Riverside (Calif.) CC/Corona (Calif.) Centennial HS; Desimon Green, 6-4, 230, DE, Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy/McKeesport, Penn. HS; Chase Robison, 6-4, 225, DE, Memphis (Tenn.) Christian Brothers; J.J. Bynum, 6-3, 280, DT, College Station A&M Consolidated; Anthony Smith, 5-11, 288, DT, Spring Westfield; Micah Awe, 6-0, 196, LB, Mansfield Summit; Ryan Flannigan, 6-1, 200, LB, Sugar Land Marshall; Will Smith, 6-3, 220, OLB, Riverside (Calif.) CC/Riverside (Calif.) Notre Dame HS; Kris Williams, 6-2, 202, LB, Dallas Bryan Adams; Chris Payne, 5-10, 190, LB-S, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC/Columbia (S.C.) HS; La’Darius Newbold, 6-1, 180, CB, Lancaster; Austin Stewart, 6-1, 195, FS, Pierce (Calif.) College/Charlotte (N.C.) Butler HS.