Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 3 Gi'Bran Payne, sophomore running back

Notre Dame Spring Football Game
Notre Dame Spring Football Game

Listed measurements: 5-foot-9 ⅛, 204 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Payne has all four seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to prudently playing in only four games last year.
Depth Chart: Payne may exit preseason practices as the No. 2 running back behind junior Audric Estimé. Three months ago, that role was undoubtedly Logan Diggs’s, before he transferred to LSU. Six months ago, senior Chris Tyree would have also been ahead of Panye, but he moved to receiver at the start of spring practices. That position switch alone suggests some confidence in Payne’s potential.
Recruiting: Payne signed a National Letter of Intent with Indiana in December of 2021, in part because he got along well with Hoosiers running backs coach Deland McCullough. When McCullough became Notre Dame’s running backs coach that winter, Payne asked Indiana to release him from his NLI.

The Hoosiers had no obligation to do so. But in modern college football, that is the expectation and it is obviously a reasonable one. Indiana granted it, and the No. 21 running back in the class, per, signed with the Irish in mid-April of 2022.

Payne’s recruitment was dampened by his focus on Indiana as well as some high school injuries. None of them were overly concerning, but they limited his highlights and somewhat seemed like a trend. A senior-year hamstring injury, in particular, lingered into the summer before he arrived in South Bend. Payne has said he was not 100 percent until October of his freshman year as a result of that lingering worry.

Combining that with Notre Dame’s running back depth in 2022, there was no need to rush him into playing time. Payne played in only the last four games of the season.

2022: 4 games; two carries for five yards.

Even back when the Irish still had Diggs returning and thus giving them two proven and experienced ball carries, McCullough was intent on giving Payne plenty of chances this spring to join the fray.

“I wanted to see this spring, Gi’Bran show that he can be a guy that we can plug in there and not lose anything as far as effectiveness, attention to detail, discipline, dependability and all those different things,” McCullough said in early April. “During this camp, live situations, he had two very long runs.

“Really good in pass protection, really good route runner, sure hands, different things like that.”

“Post-February signings are so rare, Payne cannot even be deemed an exception that proves the rule of most players signing in December. If he had signed with the Irish in February, he would have warranted such a note. By joining the class of 2022 in April, Payne became a once-every-four-years anomaly.

“That may be mentioned a few times early this season and then quickly forgotten, both of which will underscore how vital he suddenly is to Notre Dame. Payne has a decent build already, and when healthy in high school he looked much better than the No. 21 running back in the class. He should be able to contribute right away, at least in a moderate role.

“The Irish need him to. With Diggs likely out for most, if not all, of September and Price sidelined for the year, Payne will be the No. 3 back at Ohio State in 4o days.

“Let’s frame that reality in a harsher way: When Notre Dame takes the field in front of nearly 105,000 fans against a national-championship contender, the Irish will have as few as eight total receivers and running backs that were scholarship recruits. Assume at least four of those are on the field on more snaps than not; Notre Dame will have to turn to its running backs to have a complete two-deep at the skill positions in September.

“Junior Chris Tyree may work at receiver some, leaving only sophomore Audric Estime and Payne in the backfield. For that approach to work, Payne has to have proven himself in preseason practices.

“That alone will prompt reminders of his late recruitment and signing. Producing in the fall will lead to that storyline falling down the proverbial inerted pyramid as his actual in-game showings will earn more merit.

“Predicting Payne’s 2022 stats is difficult given Diggs’ timeline to return is murky, but it is a near certainty that Payne will lose a year of eligibility this season, playing in far more than four games. He may play in every game in September and then serve as the mop-up back in blowouts of Stanford, UNLV and Syracuse in October. In one of those, he should break loose a long run to the end zone, giving these unexpected duties at least one highlight.”

Perhaps Payne donning Diggs’s old No. 3 was as intentional as it was cosmetic. Removing the 1 from Payne’s old No. 13 will create a feeling of déjà vu in an Irish backfield still starring Estimé. Shorter than Diggs, Payne will also bring a physical mentality, one often emboldened by trusting his velocity to pack a punch.

But do not assume Payne will absolutely be Notre Dame’s No. 2 running back. Penn State transfer DeVyn Ford and sophomore Jadarian Price will also each get repeated preseason chances to stake a claim to that role, yet Payne’s pass protection work in the spring, when neither of those names was around (Ford not yet transferring; Price out with an Achilles injury from the summer of 2022) may have been enough to give him pole position.

It remains unlikely the No. 2 running back will near Diggs’s 165 carries last season. Estimé will simply demand too much of a workload this year. So look past 2022 to the five previous seasons: The No. 2 Irish running back averaged 75.4 carries. The No. 3 back averaged 60.6 rush attempts.

Payne should end up in that mix. A sophomore season of 60-70 carries for 300 yards and three scores would be a welcome reprieve for Estimé. More than that would start to establish Panye as the starter in 2024.

RELATED READING: Gi’Bran Payne and the redshirted runner at Notre Dame

Pondering a 2024 starter is a necessity at running back given Estimé will have every reason to head to the NFL after this season. Then it will be down to Payne, Price and Ford with current freshman Jeremiyah Love likely requiring a supplementary big-play role.

Simply enough, whoever is Estimé’s primary relief in 2023 will most likely be the 2024 starter, and right now that looks like Payne.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 75 Sullivan Absher, incoming freshman offensive lineman
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 65 Michael Vinson, sixth-year long snapper, four-year starter
No. 64 Joe Otting, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 56 Howard Cross, fifth-year defensive tackle, multi-year starter
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 54 Blake Fisher, junior right tackle, second-year starter
No. 52 Zeke Correll, fifth-year center, third-year starter
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, junior offensive guard
No. 47 Jason Onye, junior defensive tackle on the verge of playing time
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, sophomore defensive end, former linebacker
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, sophomore linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, sophomore defensive tackle following in his brother’s footsteps
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, sophomore linebacker-turned-Vyper end
No. 38 Davis Sherwood, junior fullback/H-back, former walk-on
No. 34 Drayk Bowen, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, baseball infielder
No. 32 Spencer Shrader, South Florida transfer kicker
No. 31 Nana Osafo-Mensah, fifth-year defensive end
No. 29 Christian Gray, early-enrolled freshman cornerback coming off a knee injury
No. 29 Matt Salerno, sixth-year receiver, former walk-on
No. 27 JD Bertrand, fifth-year linebacker, third-year starter, possible captain
No. 25 Preston Zinter, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, subtle recruiting win
No. 24 Jack Kiser, fifth-year linebacker, third-year starter, most efficient defender
No. 24 Jadarian Price, sophomore RB, reportedly recovered from an Achilles injury
No. 23 Jaiden Ausberry, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, four-star recruit
No. 22 Ben Minich, early-enrolled freshman safety, four-star recruit
No. 22 Jeremiyah Love, incoming freshman running back, four-star recruit
No. 21 Adon Shuler, early-enrolled freshman safety coming off shoulder surgery
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, sophomore cornerback, preseason All-American
No. 19 Jaden Greathouse, early-enrolled freshman receiver, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 18 Steve Angeli, sophomore quarterback, competing for the backup role
No. 18 Chance Tucker, junior cornerback
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Rico Flores Jr., early-enrolled freshman receiver, four-star recruit
No. 16 Micah Bell, incoming freshman cornerback, speedy four-star recruit
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, junior cornerback
No. 14 Bryce McFerson, sophomore punter facing a challenge for a second straight year
No. 14 Braylon James, early-enrolled freshman receiver, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 13 Thomas Harper, Oklahoma State graduate transfer safety/nickel back
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 12 Jordan Botelho, senior Vyper defensive end
No. 11 KK Smith, incoming freshman receiver, speedster
No. 11 Ramon Henderson, senior safety
No. 10 Sam Hartman, Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback, QB1
No. 9 Eli Raridon, sophomore tight end coming off a second ACL tear
No. 8 Kenny Minchey, early-enrolled freshman quarterback, former Pittsburgh commit
No. 8 Marist Liufau, fifth-year linebacker, second season as a starter
No. 7 Audric Estimé, junior running back, bellcow, workhorse
No. 7 Jaden Mickey, sophomore cornerback coming off big and small life lessons
No. 6 Clarence Lewis, senior cornerback with more experience than most realize
No. 5 Tobias Merriweather, sophomore receiver subject to lofty comparisons
No. 5 Cam Hart, fifth-year cornerback, coming off another shoulder injury
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
No. 3 Jaylen Sneed, sophomore linebacker coming off a notable role in the Gator Bowl

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