Future Wildcat Elijha Payne’s size, athleticism is 'off the charts

Domingo 13 de Noviembre del 2022

Future Wildcat Elijha Payne’s size, athleticism is 'off the charts

“He hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he could be.”

“He hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he could be.”

LOS ANGELES — Just before Friday’s CIF Southern Section Division II quarterfinal game, Sierra Canyon High School’s football team discovered it would be without starting quarterback Alonzo Esparza.

So, Sierra Canyon started junior Damon Wrighster at quarterback, opted for a run-heavy offensive attack, put up 385 yards on the ground ... and upset top-seeded Gardena Serra, 42-16.

Most of Sierra Canyon’s runs were to the left, where 6-foot-7-inch left tackle Elijha Payne, an Arizona Wildcats commit in the Class of 2023, helped carve paths for running backs. Whenever the Trail Blazers ran to the right side, 6-3, 360-pound right tackle Eugene Brooks, a UA target for 2024, was a key blocker.

While Sierra Canyon mostly played downhill on Friday, coach Jon Ellinghouse said they’re “very multiple in what we do. We’ll be Oregon, then we’ll be Stanford. Then go back to Oregon.”

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Like most offensive linemen, Payne prefers more of a Stanford-style, ground-and-pound offense.

“We’ve got a big O-line and we used it to our advantage,” Payne told the Star after the game. “That feels great. I like that feeling every time. I love running the ball. As much as I can eat, I’ll take it.”

Payne won’t join the UA until the summer for training camp, but he’s already getting a crash course on life in a new state. Payne played at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, the same high-profile program that produced former UA star linebacker Tony Fields II.

Citing financial issues, Payne and his mother, Valentine Payne, moved from Las Vegas to Chatsworth, California, where he enrolled at Sierra Canyon for his senior season.

“They made the decision to come out to L.A., and we were thrilled to have him,” Ellinghouse said. “Just an unbelievable kid. A really smart young man and is a sponge for football and learning a lot.

“We were thrilled to have him be a part of what we’re doing, and he’s a big part of what we’ve done this year.”

Elijha Payne says he hopes to use football as a way to make life better for both his mother and himself.

The feeling is mutual.

“Moving to California and coming to Sierra Canyon, I’ve definitely progressed and learned a lot,” Payne said. “I’ve been put in a position to perfect my craft in different ways that I didn’t know. … They both love football, but California was just a better opportunity for me.”

Payne is currently listed on Sierra Canyon’s roster at 6 feet 7 inches and 285 pounds, but told the Star on Friday that he currently weighs 306.

“As far as his athleticism at that size, it’s off the charts. One thing I love about him is that he has a lot of growth potential. He hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he could be,” Ellinghouse said. “I think that’s why Arizona is really excited about him. This is a guy who bends well, is big and strong and is still getting better with his body. I think that’s a huge upside for him going into college.”

After taking an official visit to the UA in the spring, Payne mulled his options. Oregon, Arkansas, Arizona State, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech were among the schools to offer Payne a scholarship, but the trip to Tucson stood above the rest.

“When I took my official, they showed me a lot of love and welcomed me like I was a player. From that, I believed that was the place for me,” Payne said.

Payne said Arizona offensive line coach Brennan Carroll “texts me more than anybody. He always shows love.”

“I love it. Coach B.C. is one of the best coaches that can get me where I can be — and where I’m going to be in the future,” Payne said. “He always ups the energy, and when I took a visit, he showed nothing but love. I like the community, I love the teammates and how they bond. I love it, for sure. … I just love how Coach B.C. showed me love when I took my visit.”

Payne is one of two offensive line commits for Arizona’s ‘23 class along with Rhino Tapaatoutai of Mission Hills, California. Payne would start right away, especially with right tackle Paiton Fears graduating and left tackle Jordan Morgan likely leaving for the NFL.

Relying on freshmen isn’t unusual for the UA nowadays. Entering Saturday, Arizona had started eight true freshmen this season, including guards Jonah Savaiinaea and Wendell Moe.

“If I play as a true freshman, I’ll use it to my advantage. … I’m going to work my butt off,” Payne said.

Carroll is one of many coaches on Jedd Fisch’s with NFL experience, another plus for Payne. The O-line propsect wants to use football to improve life for both him and his mother. Valentine Payne works as a caregiver for the elderly, and was unable to attend Elijha Payne’s game on Friday because she had a late-night Friday shift.

He took care of Step 1, securing a full-ride scholarship. Step 2: The NFL.

“(Football has) put me in a great position and opportunities I never thought I would’ve had. God is a blessing, man,” Payne said. “Always believe in him, because I’m here right now. …

“Football is going to take us there.”

Contact sports producer Justin Spears at [email protected]. On Twitter: @JustinESports

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Justin Spears

Sports producer

Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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