MONFORT HEIGHTS - Last Thursday, La Salle High School four-star football recruit Gi'Bran Payne tweeted that he had made his decision.
However, a decision could be not to make a decision as the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Lancer running back said Monday that he would like to make some visits.
"I'm talking currently to a lot of them (schools), still staying open even though I said that on Twitter," Payne said. "I'm just trying to plan my visits and get ready for the season."
At the end of February, Payne narrowed his choices to five via: Alabama, Florida, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Penn State. Of those five, he's only visited Northwestern where former La Salle star Jeremy Larkin is a coach and 2019 Division II state championship teammate Cam Porter is a current member of the Wildcats backfield.
"It's still kind of up in the air," Payne said of an impending decision. "I'm just trying to visit these schools actually and see what they're about. I'm currently talking to some more people just trying to get a visit in and check their campus out."
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, visits were restricted to Zoom and other online virtual experiences. Last year's Ohio Mr. Football Corey Kiner signed with LSU without stepping foot in Baton Rouge.
Then, there's the NCAA transfer portal, which now allows one-time transfers without penalty of sitting out a season. Translated, a college can pursue older players who have at least sniffed a Division I regimen in addition to bringing in raw high school players.
The game off the field has changed as much as the game on the field. In the meantime, the highest-ranked Greater Cincinnati uncommitted Class of 2022 recruit is awaiting to see up close and personal where he might tote the pigskin.
As for this season, Payne has gained 10 pounds and is hoping to stay on the field after missing much of his junior season after a high ankle sprain. After running for 113 yards and two touchdowns and catching two scoring passes in a 2020 season-opening win against Elder, Payne was limited most of the season and barely played after the first few games finishing with 235 yards and five scores plus nine catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns.
"I know Gi'Bran is looking forward to staying healthy," La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin said. "He got injured last year and tried to fight through it. You go back to his sophomore year and the tape that he had was good and the tape that he had at the beginning of last year was good. He can play at the Division I college level. It's just a matter of where he's going to fit in right now."
His sophomore tape, which included 129 yards rushing in the state title game against Massillon Washington, put him in the limelight. Though he shared carries with Cam Porter and current Navy freshman quarterback Zach Branam, he still produced 790 yards and nine touchdowns, with eight catches for 141 yards and three scores.
For good measure, he returned 13 kickoffs for 273 yards, had 41 tackles at linebacker with three forced fumbles and picked off two passes for 112 yards, including one for a touchdown.
When he's healthy, Payne prefers to stay off of the sidelines. Plus he was a defensive lineman in junior high, so he's experienced being on the chase.
"I just don't like coming off the field," he said. "It keeps me warm and I stay ready for offense."
The Lancers will have a new quarterback to hand/throw the ball to Payne as two-year starter Branam is in Annapolis with the Midshipmen. Junior Mason transfer Mason Mattingly and senior Cam Cope are in the running for that job.
La Salle also replaces four Division I defensive backs in Jaylen Johnson (Ohio State), Devonta Smith (Alabama), Iesa Jarmon (Cincinnati) and Jaymar Mundy (Miami University).
On the upside, McLaughlin returns a seasoned offensive line which includes three-year starters Paul Haywood, Austin Rack, Ryan Reynolds plus Max Leyendecker, Jake Wiesman, Tristen Manning and Liam Feeley. Many will play both ways.
"With a guy like Gi'Bran, you can pretty much do anything," Haywood said. "Just make a little hole and he'll run through it. He's super-fast. He's who he is for a reason. He's one of the best in the state."
The Lancers again will have speed to burn as Payne and some of his teammates were also part of this spring's state champion 4-x-100 relay team that stood atop the podium in early June. Koy Beasley is also a sophomore running back/defensive back, while Orlando Wyatt was a Lancer running back who recently graduated.
"We had expectations but we didn't really think we were going to win state," Payne said "It was a good experience to win state in track like I did in football."
Football-wise, La Salle is again a Division II threat playing in a league of historically notable Division I schools. St. Xavier, Moeller and Elder have all been to the state title game in the last decade with the Bombers from the other end of North Bend Road being the defending Division I champions.
"We have a very tough league with X, Elder and Moeller," Payne said. "League games are when you play your best football really."
Both 247sports.com and Rivals list Payne as a four-star recruit. 247 lists him as Ohio's ninth-best recruit, 22nd nationally at his position. Rivals has him at No. 13 in Ohio and 27th nationally at running back.