KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — JaVonta Payton hadn’t been to Tennessee in more than six months, but the 3-star wideout from Nashville’s Hillsboro High enjoyed his official visit to Rocky Top over the weekend.
“It was great,” Payton told SEC Country. “I got to see the athletic facilities, the campus, a couple restaurants. It was fun.”
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound receiver has been a Tennessee target since the summer, but communication with the in-state product was intermittent throughout the fall.
However, with Josh Malone off to the NFL, Tyler Byrd possibly moving to corner and a couple receiver commits needing to sort out grades, wideout is suddenly a potential need again. Payton has been back on Tennessee’s radar for the last few weeks. He’s heard from coach Butch Jones and assistant Zach Azzanni a lot lately, and they convinced him to take a visit.
The timing was great for Payton, who made the trip the same weekend as fellow Nashville natives and Tennessee commits Theo Jackson, Maleik Gray and Princeton Fant.
Payton enjoyed bowling at Maple Hall with Jackson, calling it the highlight of the trip.
Along with the steak. That was good, too.
“It was cool,” Payton said. “Really, really good. I’m pretty cool with all of them, but I grew up with Theo. It was good to be there together. We got to bond more together.”
Payton still has official visits lined up to Ole Miss (Jan. 20), Purdue (Jan. 27) and Middle Tennessee State (midweek). While he’s not in a rush to make a decision, the Vols certainly made an impression on the wideout — especially since he hadn’t been around the staff since Orange Carpet Day in June.
The key for Payton over the weekend was both sides “getting to know each other” better.
“I enjoyed how the coaches made me feel comfortable. The players made me feel comfortable as well,” said Payton, who was hosted by linebacker Quart’e Sapp and freshman wideout Marquez Callaway.
“It was good for them to get to know me as a person because we didn’t really get to talk as much when they first started recruiting me, but this was a good opportunity for them to get to know me and also know my family.”
Payton continued to build a bond with Azzanni, saying, “He’s cool. I love him. He’s a cool guy. I feel like if I got to Tennessee he’s a great coach and he’ll get me ready for the next level.”
With needs along the defensive line and at tailback, Tennessee has just one spot for a receiver. Maybe. Even that isn’t a foregone conclusion. But while 2017 spots are super tight, interestingly, the Vols didn’t discuss numbers with Payton.
“No. They’ve talked to me about playing my freshman year when I come in,” Payton said. “But they haven’t really told me how many positions they have open or receivers spots they have left.”
Payton returned home from his official visit around 7 p.m. Sunday and then immediately hosted coaches from Ole Miss. He also has a strong relationship with new Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, as well as the entire staff at MTSU. National Signing Day is approaching quickly, but Payton plans to take his time on a decision.
“It’s not just about playing in the SEC. It’s really about where do I feel the most comfortable. What fits me best. I don’t really pick the school based off the names. It’s the fit,” Payton explained.
“Whichever place makes me feel like if I come here they will always have my back and take care of me as a player and student. Always check up on me and make sure I stay focused in the classroom and on the field.”
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