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Notre Dame Football

Gi'Bran Payne Ascending for Notre Dame, Irish Focused on Winning Small Moments

August 21, 2023

Gi’Bran Payne moving into the No. 2 running back role shouldn’t be a huge surprise to ISD readers as it’s been clear the Ohio native had caught the eye of the staff dating back to the spring. 

Notre Dame made it all but official on Monday as Payne’s name was the second name listed on depth chart. 

What allowed the sophomore to ascend? It’s simple. 

”Consistency,” stated Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman. “Every couple days we talk about grades from practice. We grade practice and we talk about who can you trust, who is dependable.

“That’s to me where Gi’Bran has truly elevated himself in terms of that running back room. Talent matters. He wouldn't be here if he wasn’t talented.” 

Physicality is something running backs coach Deland McCullough saw in the spring as Payne was finally healthy after a hamstring injury, but it’s something he also embraced. 

The ability to run hard is one strength, but Payne’s will to pass block has allowed him to gain the trust of his coaches and teammates. 

”Gi’Bran is somebody who can run the ball with power and vision,” explained McCullough. “He can pass protect really, really good. He can move the chains as a short-yardage guy. He has power that maybe because of his compact build and get behind his pads with great leg drive. There’s a whole lot of things. A two-minute guy.” 

And don’t think this is momentum coming off a couple of good practices. Payne has been consistent in his play and has graded out extremely high on McCullough’s grading scale. 

“Gi’Bran brings a whole lot to the table just because of his high football IQ and his will to get the job done,” said McCullough. “He’s very detailed. Coming out of camp, he probably consistently graded as the highest guy in the room. Maybe Audric was right there close to him. Gi’Bran came out 92-93 percent.”

From the day Freeman took over the program, there has been an emphasis on physicality. Some might call it an old school approach, but there was a costly price as Notre Dame lost a few key players to injury last year in practice over the course of the year. 

Freeman sought out advice from his own staff at Notre Dame and other sources to come up with a plan for fall camp to maximize development, but also to limit injuries. Chris Tyree and Audric Estimé were two players who took lighter workloads at times during camp as they’re presence is more valuable on Saturdays than on practice 12 of fall camp. 

“It’s something I looked at the injuries from last year in fall camp and I said we have to find a better way to do this,” explained Freeman. “I think we were down over half the concussions. I know we decreased in every soft tissue ligament injury in all facets. We really decreased the injuries.

“I know the weather helped, but I think we were 79 percent down in dehydration for fall camp. Our team did a great job. The sports performance team, the medical trainers, our coaches really did a great job of keeping the guys healthy and making sure we have everybody we need as we get ready to go to Dublin, Ireland.” 

The ability to seek out advice shouldn’t be lost either. Some head coaches are stubborn in their ways, but Freeman admits he doesn’t know everything and was open to learning more about preparing his team to hit its potential. 

“I want high performance on game days,” stated Freeman. “I think John Wagle and some of that sports performance team were able to present to me this is what you’re looking for on Saturday and here’s different ways to get to that point. 

“I was able to adapt and adjust myself as a leader and not just say, ‘No this is the way I want to do things.’ I just want to do what’s best for the players. That’s what matters at the end of the day.” 

Notre Dame isn’t in a conference, so the only goal is a National Championship. Yet, Freeman has been very vocal about not talking about National Championship aspirations with his team. Some found it a bit strange, but there is a method to it as Freeman wants his team to keep a smaller focus in hopes of it leading to that National Championship. 

Focus on today. You are in a competition today against your opponent. We’re both practicing today, so who is going to win today? 

“That’s got to be your mindset,” Freeman said. “Stop worrying about Saturday. Saturday is a result of what you do today. It’s a constant message preached to the team. One day, one life. You can’t control Saturday. You can control right now and what’s in front of you. You can’t control what happened Friday at practice. You can control right now. That’s where I want to focus.” 

And yes, Freeman fully acknowledges the coaches speak as wins and losses will define his legacy and the direction of the program. But his goal is to have his team win each moment to put themselves in position to make a run. 

“We have to focus on the things we can control and that’s today, the first play of Saturday and winning the moment,” said Freeman. “Winning the day and winning these small moments. We’ll figure out the rest later.”

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