Four-star Texas Linebacker Payton Pierce Impressed with Ohio State Coaching Staff, Calls Buckeyes "Biggest Brand" in College Football

By Garrick Hodge on March 30, 2023 at 8:35 am
Payton Pierce

Ohio State is zeroing in on Payton Pierce as one of its top remaining linebacker targets in the 2024 class.

In turn, the four-star Texas linebacker feels mutual respect for Buckeyes. Pierce took his first-ever visit to Columbus on Saturday, taking in the Buckeyes’ scrimmage and fifth practice of the season.  

“I had never been to Columbus before but I always watched Ohio State,” Pierce told Eleven Warriors. “So I just wanted to come down and see what it was like. I came down and it blew me away. I didn't know what to expect but it blew me out of the water. It was great watching practice and watching the coaches. They're elite at every level of the program, from the coaches to the players interacting with each other really shows why they win so much and why they're so consistent. I got a really good taste of that. The campus and staff they have there, it's on a whole other level. That really stuck out to me.”

Pierce is no stranger to scarlet and gray uniforms, as his high school threads at Lovejoy (Lucas, Texas) are very similar to the apparel the Buckeyes don on Saturdays in the fall. 

“I posted a picture on Instagram of my pictures at Ohio State and my caption was ‘New team, same jersey,’” Pierce said. “(The jerseys) are what everybody talks about and everybody is like ‘Oh, it’s meant to be.’ It’s interesting because that’s essentially my high school uniform and you’re used to us wearing them, and then you go see the real Buckeyes, and there’s a lot bigger players on their team. It’s pretty funny.” 

While on the visit, Pierce bonded with both defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and graduate assistant coach James Laurinaitis. In his two days on campus, Pierce ate dinner with Knowles twice and attended several of OSU’s linebacker meetings. Pierce had formed a close relationship with Laurinaitis while at Notre Dame and was stoked when the former OSU linebacker standout joined Ryan Day’s coaching staff.

“It's always good talking to him,” Pierce said of Laurinaitis. “I talk to him on the phone a lot. To see him in person and being around my family is awesome. It was great seeing him out there on the field coaching and leading the linebacker meetings. Watching him and coach Knowles interact, it's really good seeing how they can coach together. I’ve got a feeling having coach Laurinaitis now as a coach for Ohio State will just make their defense even better. It's funny, because he's touring around the building, and his face is all over the walls with all these accolades. And it's like, you'd never know if you just didn't know who he was, he's just so humble and such a good guy.”

Pierce said he speaks with Knowles and Laurinaitis on a weekly basis. 

“(Knowles is) a really good coach, I mean, you could see why their defense was so successful last year and how good they got over a period of time at Oklahoma State when he was there,” Pierce said. “It was good seeing what they do defensively and their team and what they require for the linebackers. That's really appealing.”

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Pierce, considered the 151st-best player and the 15th-ranked linebacker in 247Sports’ composite rankings, was hoping for an OSU offer for most of Knowles’ first season in Columbus. But the offer came later than expected. In the offseason, Knowles visited Pierce in Texas in January and extended the offer personally. 

“I was pretty excited,” Pierce said of picking up the offer. “I've always kind of wanted an offer from Ohio State. They hadn't offered me yet in coach Knowles's first year and then a couple of weeks before Laurinaitis got there, coach Knowles offered me and came down to my school and watched me wrestle. I was all super excited to get the offer. It's pretty exciting because they're the biggest brand in college football and everyone knows who Ohio State is and what they're known for.”

At his size and playstyle, Pierce said Knowles and Laurinaitis view him primarily as a Mike linebacker.

“I think they see me as a Mike, but that can be interchangeable with a Will,” Pierce said. “That's kind of what they see me as, just an inside guys. It was good watching film. Watching how they do stuff, I feel like it really fits me and what they require from the linebackers. I feel like my strengths match this defense really well. I don't know exactly what position they see me playing at, but probably I'm guessing Mike.”

As his recruitment winds down, Pierce acknowledged the Buckeyes are “at the top” of his recruitment and various recruiting services have cast predictions for the Texas product to continue wearing scarlet and gray at the next level. He’s also locked into taking an official visit to OSU, but while he’s currently scheduled to return on June 24, he mentioned the date could change. Pierce said he doesn’t have a specific timeline in mind for a commitment.

“I don't really have an exact plan,” Pierce said. “I mean, I did, it was this summer. But now this recruiting process is getting really prolonged. And I'm not like big into recruiting and stuff. I'm ready to start trying to narrow down and really start making hard decisions and pick a school that I like. I think it'll be pretty soon, either at the beginning of summer or before spring ball. I don't know, just if there's a school that I like, and I want to go there, I'm not going to hesitate to say that's the school I want to get to get this off my shoulders and move on to the next portion of my life.”

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