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'I just knew': Belleville five-star tackle Damon Payne commits to Alabama

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Damon Payne was in ninth grade the first time he visited Alabama, and on Sunday, the Belleville defensive tackle announced he was committing to play for the Crimson Tide.

A five-star prospect and the top defensive tackle in the nation according to the composite rankings at 247Sports, Payne turned down offers from the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, LSU, Oregon, Kentucky and Oklahoma to join Nick Saban’s program.

Belleville's Damon Payne is heading to Alabama.

“I just knew where I wanted to go," Payne told 247Sports. “I had it set in my mind, didn't have any second thoughts so I went ahead and made the decision. For a little over a year, I've known, but I didn't go for it right away because I wanted to see if there were any other schools that I wanted to pick instead but they stayed solid in my mind.

"During that time, I looked into all the schools that had recruited me, but I knew that's where I wanted to go.”

Payne took a visit to Tuscaloosa before his sophomore season with Belleville coach Jermain Crowell and a handful of teammates, including current Michigan State offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs.

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Since that point, the 6-foot-3, 297-pounder rated as the No. 2 player in the state by The Detroit News built a solid relationship with the Tide staff.

“When I went up there, it felt like home,” Payne said. “It felt like a good place for me where I can see myself excelling in all aspects, football and academics.”

Payne, the first player from Michigan to commit to Alabama since running back Mark Ingram in 2008, ranks as the No. 14 overall player in the nation according to 247Sports and checks in at No. 31 on the Rivals list.

With 59 tackles, including 22 tackles for loss and eight sacks, Payne earned second-team All-State honors as a junior. He did so playing at 310 pounds, Crowell said, and spent the offseason dropping weight to become more of an explosive player, something the Crimson Tide were after.

“He’s gotten stronger,” Crowell told The News. “Played at 310 last year. This year he’s down to 290, so he’s faster, leaner and I think it’s going to help him be more explosive. He’s the top defensive tackle in the country. He’s big, fast and strong. He’s hard to stop.

“I think last year with him trying to get bigger, it was experimental on his end, but now he understands, especially going both ways and not coming off the field, that leaner is better.”

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Payne is the fourth five-star prospect to commit to Alabama’s 2021 class, one that is ranked second overall in the nation behind Ohio State.

Charles Power, a national recruiting analyst at 247Sports, broke down what Alabama was getting with Payne.

“There are very few holes to Payne's game at this stage,” Power said. “He's rock solid across the board and is the type of high floor prospect you feel good about when translating to the next level. Payne is stoutly-built and already at around 300 pounds. He has high-end quickness and bursts off the ball with bend and flexibility. This physical ability lends itself well to projecting as an interior pass rusher.

“The fact he plays both ways also points to his conditioning and competitiveness. To go up into Michigan and land such a coveted prospect out of Big Ten country is yet another huge recruiting win for Alabama as the Tide continue to build steam in assembling another top class.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau