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Notre Dame Football

Gi'Bran Payne Enters Spring Finally at Full Health, Ready to Compete at Notre Dame

April 7, 2023

Rising sophomore Gi'Bran Payne entered spring ball as the least-heralded scholarship running back on the 2023 Notre Dame roster. Given the talent ahead of him, he may be the fifth-string running back by the season opener against Navy.

Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs each exceeded 1,000 yards from scrimmage last fall. 

JD Price rehabs his left Achilles tendon, which he tore last summer, but Fighting Irish fans remain hopeful that he’ll return to the same player who snagged eight receptions for 104 yards and a score in the 2022 Blue-Gold Game

Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love enrolls this summer. The top-100 prospect ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at 6-0 and 190 pounds.

Still, it’s foolish to count Payne out based on his talent, mental fortitude and thirst for competition. 

“The biggest difference is this is D1,” Payne said. “Everybody’s good. Everybody’s close in levels. That’s the biggest thing you have to realize. In high school, you might have been that guy, but in college, everybody is at the same level. You understand. It makes you want to compete more. Competition is high.”

He became a national prospect after his sophomore campaign at La Salle High School in Cincinnati in 2019. That fall, he rushed for 790 yards, caught eight passes for 141 yards and totaled 12 touchdowns while leading his Lancers to a Division II state title in Ohio

Payne garnered national interest as a result. He became a top-200 prospect and received offers from Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.

As a junior, he produced 113 yards in a 53-52 win over Cincinnati football powerhouse Elder High School in the season opener. 

Unfortunately, injuries hampered Payne for the next three years, diminishing his on-the-field production.

                                                Gi'Bran Payne H.S. Offensive Production
Season Rush Yards Receiving Yards Total Yards Total Touchdowns
2021 274 177 451 3
2020 235 181 416 8
2019 790  141 931 12

*Payne’s High School stats per the Cincinnati Enquirer.

He battled through a high-ankle sprain during his sophomore year and then suffered a knee injury as a senior. Over his final two high school seasons combined, he produced fewer yards from scrimmage (867) and total touchdowns (12) than he did as a sophomore. 

On Dec. 15, 2021, he signed with Indiana to play for Deland McCullough, the Hoosier’s associate head coach and running backs coach. Then Payne followed his position coach to South Bend that offseason after McCullough joined coach Marcus Freeman’s first staff. 

But during track season that spring, Payne pulled his hamstring — an injury that lingered into his freshman season at Notre Dame. 

“I never got the proper treatment, so it rolled into summer,” Payne said. ”I was getting treatment, but I was basically starting at zero.”

Payne looked out of shape in fall camp next to athletic marvels like Estimé and Chris Tyree. Perhaps injuries would prevent the 5-9 and 205 running back from reaching his potential?

On Nov. 12, he made his season debut on special teams against Navy. He appeared in four games last fall, which included two carries for five yards in a 44-0 home victory over Boston College. 

“I didn’t get to 100% until probably, I want to say, October,” Payne said. “That’s when I knew I had my full speed back. Around that time.”

Six months later, Payne still feels great, even after undertaking a heavy workload as one of two available scholarship running backs through most of Notre Dame’s eight spring practices. 

Currently, Tyree is working at wide receiver; Price is still rehabbing his Achilles and Diggs is recovering from a minor lower-body injury.

“I wanted to see this spring Gi’Bran show that he can be a guy that we can plug in there,” McCullough said, “and not lose anything as far as effectiveness, attention to detail, discipline, dependability, and all those different things.

“During this camp in live situations, he had two very long runs, really good in pass protection, really good route runner, has sure hands, different things like that.”

The Irish also need a new punt returner after safety Brandon Joseph departed for the NFL Draft. 

New special teams coordinator Marty Biagi is giving each viable candidate a fresh look. 

Payne returned kicks in high school and averaged 28.4 yards on kickoff returns during his injury-plagued senior season. He will compete with Tyree, Matt Salerno, and Lorenzo Styles this spring to be Notre Dame’s return man. 

“The first thing is securing the ball, but the big thing is getting vertical,” Payne said. “I know getting vertical, a lot of people don’t want to take me head-on, full speed. I think I can break a lot of tackles. I don’t like going down on the first hit. That’s a big thing for me in the return this year.”

This spring, Payne is proving that he’s capable of contributing in 2023, whether it be on special teams, out of the backfield or by lining up out wide. 

Still, Notre Dame’s running back room is loaded. By the fall, Payne may be buried on the depth chart, even if he’s talented enough to contribute at most college football programs.

It’s a problem the Fighting Irish coaching staff welcomes.  Now, even a returning star like Estimé can’t afford to take a day off in the spring with Payne nipping at his heels. 

“Gi'Bran's balling. Gi'Bran's been getting better every day, every week, every year,” Estimé said. “So, Gi'Bran's another guy who's going to come in and push you. And we've all got ballers in the room. Iron sharpens iron and Gi'Bran's iron. He's definitely making me better, and I'm definitely making him better.”

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