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USC commitment spreads Gamecock gospel

Chris Payne's job on the football field is that of a hard-hitting safety who is not afraid to share his opinions.

While honing those skills and preparing this summer for his senior season at Columbia High, he is filling a vital off-field role as well.

Since becoming South Carolina’s first commitment for the Class of 2009 in March, Payne has been preaching the Gamecocks football gospel to whichever top players he can get in touch with.

“I’ve met a bunch of people from all over,” Payne said. “I try to talk to someone every other week. I try to get in touch (via phone, e-mail or text) with at least two every week.”

Payne is a hometown kid selling the attributes of his hometown college. But he didn’t agree to stay close to home and join the Gamecocks because he had no other options.

After recording 130 tackles and nine sacks for the Capitals last season, he fielded scholarship offers from North Carolina, Michigan State, Clemson and Virginia Tech. He briefly committed to Clemson in February before reneging and pledging to USC.

He has an interesting reason for his decision.

“All those people have won titles,” Payne said. “South Carolina has never won anything. I want to accomplish my own goals instead of following someone else. Let’s start our own history.”

Columbia coach Kemper Amick said his star player might be on to something.

“He is definitely one that wants to set his mark,” Amick said. “I think he sees, like a lot of kids, you go to Carolina and if things happen good, it’s probably different than any place in the history of college football.”

Payne will bring an athletic presence to USC’s secondary when he arrives next year. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he bench-presses 320 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds. He plays running back when not patrolling the secondary, and he immerses himself in the game.

“He studies football,” Amick said. “He loves football. He’ll be a great coach one day.”

Payne plans to help Columbia to a great season in the fall, when it will be a contender for the Class 2A championship. But he already is looking ahead to his USC days.

He has become friends with several USC players, including Eric Norwood, Jasper Brinkley, Captain Munnerlyn, Emanuel Cook and Akeem Auguste.

He also has met with Ellis Johnson, USC’s first-year defensive coordinator.

“He’s a man that knows what he’s doing, and he will get the defense right,” Payne said. “The defense is going to be better all around. I want to play for him.”

Amick thinks Gamecock fans will want Payne around, as well.

“He’s a joy to have on our team,” Amick said. “Some people look at Chris and think he’s cocky and overboard. He just enjoys playing football. He’s wide open from the beginning and gives you some great highlights.”