GREENSBORO — On a hot North Carolina summer night in a sweltering 4G3 Training Center, Payton Page played it cool.
With a small group of family, friends and coaches masked and watching from a socially appropriate distance and local media focused on his every word, the Dudley football standout stared down the cameras like an opposing offensive lineman.
Page calmly talked about his criteria and how he arrived at this day, and then he ended the suspense.
The consensus four-star defensive tackle put on a Tiger paw facemask and said he will attend Clemson.
Page had narrowed his choice to Clemson, North Carolina and Tennessee after evaluating scholarship offers from 30 to 35 Power 5 football programs.
“I can only choose one, and that’s Clemson University,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
Payton’s mother, Felicia, couldn’t help smiling when she spoke of the college options her son had earned heading into his senior year of high school.
“These three schools … we could not have dreamed of this,” she said just before Payton announced his decision. “We’re just honored and blessed that he has this opportunity. Each one of these three is a great school.”
On the football field, Page is ranked No. 30 in the nation by Rivals.com, No. 31 in the ESPN300 and No. 80 in 247Sports’ rankings for the Class of 2021.
Steven Davis, his coach at Dudley, says Clemson is “getting a self-made, ready-to-play-on-that-level guy.
“I think in about three years he’ll have a chance to forgo his senior season and go to the league. With the program they have, if he just continues to develop he could be a top-10, top-15 pick in the NFL draft when he comes out. He’s got that kind of talent.”
Before he enrolled at Dudley, Page’s primary sport was basketball. But at the urging of then-Panthers quarterback Hendon Hooker (now at Virginia Tech), he tried football.
It was rough at first. Page admits he was “soft,” but he had an opportunity to step into the Panthers’ lineup as a freshman because of injuries and he’s only grown from there, earning HSXtra.com All-Area honors twice.
“He came in as a kid with his size and athletic ability – we saw him shoot a basketball – who didn’t play football,” Davis said. “But he easily transitioned into football with a combination of his size, speed and strength … and getting coached up on a daily basis he got there.”
But his father, former N.C. A&T player Eric Page, wanted to celebrate more than just football on the day Payton decided where he will continue his career.
“Watching him develop into this young man has been a proud moment for our entire family,” Eric said.