FARGO — A lot has happened with Omaha Westside High School quarterback Cole Payton since he gave North Dakota State a verbal commitment last May. His team won an elusive Nebraska state high school championship and the state’s flagship college made a pitch to flip his Bison commitment.
It didn’t work. Payton said no to the University of Nebraska, as well as Iowa State, and he’ll say yes to NDSU on Wednesday on the first day of the NCAA early-signing period for Division I football. He’s expected to be one of at least 23 commitments.
Payton said Nebraska didn’t offer a scholarship, but “reached out” to him. The Cornhuskers already have a commitment from Kearney Catholic High School quarterback Heinrich Haarberg, who is believed to be the first in-state quarterback recruit in 17 years.
That list, obviously, doesn’t include Easton Stick, the Omaha Creighton Prep quarterback who led NDSU to three Division I FCS national titles and became the all-time winningest QB in FCS history.
“I think growing up in Nebraska, most of these kids all want to play football for Nebraska,” Payton said, “but the reality of it is it’s not always possible. I’m alright with that because NDSU is the perfect fit for me.”
Moreover, it’s been proven in the last several years to be better fit to reach the NFL than Nebraska — and a lot of Power Five schools for that matter. When Trey Lance is drafted next spring, he’ll be the third straight Bison quarterback to hear his name in the NFL Draft, joining Carson Wentz in 2016 (second overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles) and Stick with the Los Angeles Chargers (fifth round in 2019).
“To see him go early, that makes the dreams and goals to play in the NFL feel like they’re even closer because I got to meet him,” Payton said of Lance. “Easton and Carson and those guys helped pave the path for guys like me.”
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Payton said he’s been in constant touch with a group chat of at least 20 Bison verbal commitments.
“We’re starting to get to know each other so it’s been a lot of fun,” he said.
Payton will join a Bison roster that will most likely have five quarterbacks, with senior Zeb Noland expected to get the start this spring and with that next fall. Currently, Noah Sanders is a junior, Logan Graetz is a redshirt freshman and Cam Miller a true freshman.
In his Westside career, Payton threw for 5,338 yards and 65 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,122 yards and another 37 touchdowns.
There were social media highlights of Payton running by and through opponents at another level. It ended with a 37-21 victory over Elkhorn South in the state title game. Payton threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more accounting for all of his team’s TDs.
“Obviously that’s something I’m never going to forget and that state championship was crazy and so exciting,” he said. “I’m just glad we finally got it done after losing in the state final last season and bringing one home for Westside. It had been awhile (1982). And I’m glad we got to make the most out of the season that we didn’t even know we were going to have.”
Payton said he plans on playing baseball this spring with Westside before heading to Fargo for summer workouts. The plan on Wednesday morning is for a signing day ceremony at Westside.
Bison verbal commitments:
Barika Kpeenu, 5-10, 185, RB, West Fargo Sheyenne
Sibomana Enock, 6-0, 185, RB/DB, Fargo South
Truman Werremeyer, 6-1, 220, FB, Fargo Davies
Jaxon Duttenhefer, 6-3, 275, OL/DL, Mandan
Jack Steckler, 6-5, 210, TE, Bismarck
Finn Diggins, 6-5, 215, QB, Perham
Sam Henry, 6-6, 270, OL, Eden Prairie
Brayden Weber, 6-2, 215, LB, Becker
Bryce Lance, 6-4, 185, WR, Marshall
Elijah Green, 5-11, 190, WR, Farmington
Cole Payton, 6-3, 210, QB, Omaha Westside
Alex Oechsner, 5-10, 175, WR/DB, Waukesha
Kayden Warren, 6-4, 240, OL/DL, Rice Lake
Cam Devine, 6-4, 225, RB/LB, Brookfield
Logan Kopp, 6-0, 200, RB/LB, St. Louis
Reginald King, 6-3, 190, WR/DB, Grandview
Kody Huisman, 6-4, 245, DL, Pella
Blake Sadr, 6-4, 255, OL, Treynor
Nasir Howell, 6-1, 170, DB, Kennesaw
Mike Florentine, 6-1, 230, long snapper, Frankfort
Britton Pascoe, 6-0, 180, DB, Valrico
Ryan Jones, 6-3, 200, DB, Reedy
Braden Rucker, 6-3, 245, OL, Eureka