Looking at Clemson’s scholarship numbers, head coach Dabo Swinney was up front with defensive tackles coach Todd Bates about the Tigers having space for just one D-tackle in their 2021 class.
So, Bates knew he had to be highly selective in who he decided to pursue for the lone available spot, and thus he locked in on Payton Page, a four-star prospect from Greensboro, N.C., as the bulls-eyed target.
Bates and the Tigers worked hard to recruit Page and eventually got their guy, as he committed to Clemson over North Carolina, Tennessee and many other major programs in July before ultimately signing with Swinney’s program last Wednesday on the first day of college football’s early signing period.
“Our numbers, we recruit to our numbers around here. We don’t just go out and sign a bunch of guys and try to figure it out,” Swinney said during Clemson Football’s National Signing Day Show at the Reeves Football Operations Complex. “We’re very specific in how we recruit. We don’t offer many guys. But I told Todd, I said, ‘You got one guy,’ and this was the guy.
“And so, that just tells you what we think about him. Obviously with our brand, we have the opportunity to recruit a lot of people, at least to be able to have a conversation. But this was the one guy that Todd wanted to stand on the table for and put his name on, and we’re excited about what he brings.”
Page, a top-50 national prospect per multiple recruiting services, was the apple of Bate’s eye during the 2021 cycle.
Having cultivated a relationship with Page and his family over several years during the recruiting process, Bates had no doubt Page was the one player he wanted to help the Tigers get on board at his position.
“S.P.O.T. stands for ‘special players out there,’ and Payton’s definitely one of those, man,” Bates said during Clemson’s signing day show. “Really got a chance to get to know him and his family throughout the recruiting process, and meeting him at a young age and just seeing him develop, he’s very physical. He reestablishes the line of scrimmage and can really rush the passer. But he’s going to bring some initial short-yardage ability to stop the run, and he can also pass rush.”
Bates called Page – an athletic 6-foot-4, 300-plus pound mauler up front – a “dancing bear.”
“He’s a dancing bear. He’s got sweet feet,” Bates said. “You just love to see him, man, working on the footwork ladder and doing things in his garage as he’s had to change up his routine, not being able to get out to gyms, working out from home (during the pandemic). It’s been really good to see him really attacking that process.”
Swinney recalled the first time he saw Page in person and was shocked at how big he was for his age.
“I think the first time I met him was maybe ninth or 10th grade, and I remember the first time I met him, I was like, ‘This guy’s a ninth grader?’” Swinney said. “I mean, unbelievable. But this is a grown man right here.”
Page did not have a 2020 high school season due to COVID-19 but posted 191 career tackles, including 55 for loss, as a three-year starter at Dudley High School in Greensboro. He had at least one tackle for loss in every game his sophomore and junior seasons, a streak of 27 straight games.
The No. 4 defensive tackle and No. 30 overall prospect in the country for the 2021 class according to ESPN, Page plans to enroll early at Clemson in January.
“Like Todd said, he’s going to reestablish the line of scrimmage, quick,” Swinney said. “He’s not a guy you’re going to be able to move. One guy is going to have a hard time blocking Payton. But he’s got a bright, bright future. He does. He’s got great feet, he’s a basketball player. Just a great fit for our style of play, what we do and what we believe in when it comes to the interior D-line play.
“He’s got some great football in front of him, and he’s going to be surrounded by some other great players. But he was the one guy that we felt like all across the country fit everything we were looking for, for a Clemson Tiger.”
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