2014 CB D'Andre Payne working hard

Never mind the height. Just play big.

It’s a simple mantra, but it’s what has made 2014 cornerback D’Andre Payne (Washington, DC/Howard D. Woodson) one of the most sought after defensive backs in the nation.

And though he has more than 25 offers, Payne is far from being done. He has yet to reach his goal of being the No. 1 cornerback in the country.

“I’m staying focused and not letting it get to my head,” Payne said. “I’m just trying to be the best. They always say there’s someone out there working harder. But I’m trying to be that guy, be the hardest working man.”

Payne isn’t the stereotypical cornerback you’d expect. At 5-foot-9, he doesn’t fit into the growing trend of larger defensive backs in elite D-I programs. But his fitness level and football IQ have drawn the interest of several top programs.

And when people tell him he’s too small to be a defensive back, he responds with a touch of humor.

“A lot of times they’ll say, ‘Oh, there’s a 6-foot-4’ receiver and I just say, ‘Well, I guess he’s the wrong size, I’m not the wrong size,” Payne said. “I don’t let it get to me. I just play big.”

And when he steps on the field against those larger players he always tries to be the most prepared player on the pitch. At the beginning of the summer Payne measured a 33-inch vertical, but since, it has improved because of his intense training regimen.

He spent most of the summer doing three-a-day workouts: core in the mornings and evenings, field practice during the day, footwork and hip work after practice and weightlifting when he has the energy.

“It was exhausting at first, but I got used to it,” Payne said. “I’m just trying to perfect my craft.”

This summer the rising junior visited 11 schools, with four standing out just a bit over the rest: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Ohio State.

Payne enjoyed his visits to Columbus and Ann Arbor, which occurred on the same trip, giving him a taste of what the rivalry could be like if he were to commit to either school.

“I had a lot of fun going to both schools,” Payne said. “When I went to Michigan, they had signs everywhere that said, ‘Beat Ohio, beat Ohio.’ And when I went to Ohio State, they call Michigan, ‘that team up north,’ They don’t even call them Michigan.”

Michigan secondary coach Curt Mallory has mainly been recruiting Payne. And Payne, who attended the Wolverines’ summer camp, enjoyed the opportunity to work with Mallory and graduate assistant Aubrey Pleasant.

“I’m pretty small, and a lot of schools like tall corners, but most schools just want ballers,” Payne said. “A lot of coaches just say that’s me, that I’m ready. … So I guess that’s what they’re looking for.”