FARGO — In the virtual age of college football recruiting, Cole Payton of Omaha (Neb.) Westside High School had a 45-minute Zoom meeting with North Dakota State football coaches Monday afternoon. It took him less than 45 seconds to answer the following question: Do you want to accept a scholarship offer at NDSU?
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-handed quarterback became the fourth verbal commitment for the 2021 recruiting class.
“I took it on the spot, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity like this,” Payton said.
Payton’s Zoom meeting was with NDSU’s offensive assistants and head coach Matt Entz. Normally, in a non-pandemic year, it’s Entz who does the offering face-to-face.
Payton is considered the top returning quarterback in the state of Nebraska, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star newspaper. The Bison have had success with Omaha quarterbacks. Easton Stick, from Creighton Prep, was a 3 1/2-year starter and left NDSU in 2018 as the all-time FCS leader in QB victories and a fifth-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Chargers.
And Christian Dudzik, a quarterback in high school at Omaha Skutt, was a four-year starter at defensive back with NDSU who played in 61 career games and left with four national championship rings. It also didn’t hurt that NDSU produced the second overall draft pick in the 2016 NFL draft in Carson Wentz and current starting quarterback Trey Lance is already getting NFL attention.
“That definitely helped set a path that I can follow,” Payton said.
Payton took the Bison over offers from Missouri Valley Football Conference teams Illinois State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and South Dakota and Dartmouth of the Ivy League. He told NDSU of his decision in the afternoon, but waited until late at night to post his commitment on Twitter so he could thank the other schools for recruiting him.
He threw for 1,986 yards and 24 touchdowns last fall as a junior completing 60 percent of his throws. He ran for 872 yards and another 15 touchdowns. Westside reached the Class A state title game losing to Bellevue West.
Payton took a game day visit to NDSU last fall and was able to attend a junior day in February before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down college campuses.
“Ever since my last visit up there, I’ve been in constant communication with them with meetings, calls and learning more and more about NDSU,” he said. “My parents and I thought about it and I was ready when the time came.”
The scholarship offer to Payton could factor into the decision of another left-handed quarterback prospect in Moorhead High’s Trey Feeney. The Spuds junior said last week the University of North Dakota offered him, along with Division II Minnesota State-Mankato. Bison coaches talked to him and evaluated him.
NDSU traditionally offers a scholarship offer to one quarterback a year.
Payton is the first NDSU commit outside the state of North Dakota. He’ll join Fargo South safety Sibomana Enock, West Fargo Sheyenne running back Barika Kpeenu and Mandan defensive lineman Jaxon Duttenhefer in the 2021 recruiting class.
Payton said waiting around for an FBS offer wasn’t part of his thought process.
“I definitely wanted to decide before my senior season,” he said. “I want to focus on my school for the last fall, so I had no problem accepting the offer from North Dakota State."