Better Know a Buckeye: Payton Pierce’s Run-Stopping Excellence Makes Him a Perfect Pair with Garrett Stover at Linebacker in Ohio State's 2024 Class

By Josh Poloha on May 23, 2024 at 10:10 am
Payton Pierce

Better Know A Buckeye is our look at every member of Ohio State’s 2024 recruiting class and how they became Buckeyes as they prepare to begin their OSU careers this fall.

The second linebacker in Ohio State's 2024 class, Payton Pierce (No. 15 linebacker, No. 204 overall) will now suit up for a program he once proclaimed to be “the biggest brand in college football.”

The four-star Texas product was also the second defensive player to commit to the Buckeyes in the 2024 class, joining a list that included just fellow linebacker Garrett Stover among defensive commits at the time alongside eight offensive commits.

Payton Pierce

  • Size: 6-2/223
  • Pos: LB
  • School: Lovejoy (Lucas, Texas)
  • Star Rating: ★★★★
  • Composite Rank: #204 (#15 LB)

How He Became a Buckeye

When Pierce visited Ohio State for the first time on March 25, 2023, a little over two months after receiving an OSU offer, it was a trip that changed his recruitment forever.

“I had never been to Columbus before but I always watched Ohio State,” Pierce told Eleven Warriors following that visit. “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 and James Laurinaitis had a longstanding relationship dating back to the latter's time at Notre Dame. When Laurinaitis returned to his alma mater, it put the wheels in motion for Pierce to end up in Columbus.

Sitting in his hotel room that Saturday, the Texas product already had his mind made up. It just took a few weeks for the decision to be made official because Pierce's parents requested he take some time and gather his thoughts to ensure that's what he wanted rather than making an emotional, in-the-moment decision on his visit.

After a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee to visit the Volunteers, he returned to his hometown in Texas with the same mindset: He wanted to be a Buckeye. Nothing compared to spending time on campus and with the coaching staff at Ohio State. Add in that his high school, Lovejoy, has similar uniforms to the Buckeyes, and it was only right that Pierce would eventually don the scarlet and gray in college as well.

"It was really starting to dawn on me, this is where I wanted to go," Pierce told Eleven Warriors ahead of his commitment.

Although he didn't make the decision public until April 11, Pierce FaceTimed the three coaches that primarily recruited him to Ohio State – Ryan Day, Jim Knowles and Laurinaitis – to inform them of his decision on April 6, waiting to announce it on social media until after Easter weekend.

"We talked about it for 20 minutes and my parents were on the FaceTime call," Pierce said describing his phone call with OSU's coaching staff to let them know he was committing. "They were pretty excited. I think they might've known it was coming because I asked if I could give them a call at a certain time and they all said 'Yeah, let's go.'"

Pierce picked Ohio State out of a top six that included Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Notre Dame.

High School Years

Pierce showcased his ability early on as a high schol football player, earning playing time at the varsity level as a freshman at Allen High School before transferring to Lovejoy in Lucas, Texas.

As a junior, Pierce totaled 131 tackles (21 for loss), six sacks and five forced fumbles. He also played quarterback for Lovejoy, rushing for 10 touchdowns and passing for another two scores.

Pierce saved his best high school season for last. As a senior, the 6-foot-2, 223-pounder had one of the best seasons in the country for a prep linebacker. He racked up 181 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, eight sacks, four forced fumbles, four pass breakups and two blocked kicks while also scoring 11 total touchdowns on offense in 14 games.

His dominance didn't go unnoticed, as Pierce was one of five high school Butkus Award finalists. Clemson commit Sammy Brown eventually won the award, but Pierce was honored to be nominated.

“It was awesome,” Pierce told Eleven Warriors of being a finalist for the award. “You dream about being a Butkus finalist and award winner. I grew up paying attention to it every year to see who gets it because the guy who gets it always becomes a great NFL player. It’s an honor and it shows that working hard can get you far. I’m super grateful for it and now the goal is to get it in college now.”

Immediate Impact

With Cody Simon, Sonny Styles, C.J. Hicks and either Gabe Powers or Arvell Reese making up the two-deep at Will and Mike linebacker, Pierce's first season at Ohio State will be used to develop his coverage skills. While he showcased his success as a run-stopper and ability to make plays in the backfield in high school, he still needs some time to develop into the all-around linebacker that Ohio State wants him to be.

That said, Pierce is hungry to play early and often when given the opportunity.

"I feel like I have a chance to play early if I do what I'm supposed to and I have confidence in myself,” Pierce said. “Obviously I'm going to go in there to be the best I can be, and I know the coaches will help me do that. I'm super grateful to do this, not a lot of people get to say they got to play at The Ohio State University, so it's pretty special."

As an early enrollee, Pierce is leaning on upperclassmen such as Simon to learn the ropes of being an Ohio State linebacker. He missed spring practices due to an ankle injury, but told Eleven Warriors in March that he expected to be cleared in time for summer workouts.

“I’m going to go in there and go compete right when I get back,” Pierce said. “Cody is a great guy to learn from. I hit it off with him on my official visit, I really like him a lot. He’ll be good to learn from and having all these guys in the room makes me a better linebacker. ... I’ll be ready to compete with them.” 

Long-Term Impact

Much like many other positions on Ohio State's 2024 roster, the Buckeyes' two-deep at linebacker is filled with upperclassmen. That said, Simon will be gone in 2025 and it’s possible Styles and/or Hicks could declare for the NFL draft.

While Pierce will have to compete for playing time with the likes of Powers, Stover and Reese, among others, his size and proven playmaking ability at the high school level will put him among the candidates to compete to replace Simon at Mike linebacker next year.

With Stover's coverage ability being his best attribute and Pierce's aptitude as a run-stopper, the two freshmen could make a perfect pair in the middle of OSU's defense when the time comes.

Player Comparison: Joshua Perry

Perry became a starting linebacker for Ohio State as a sophomore, totaling 62 tackles (two for loss) and one sack. During his final two seasons as a Buckeye, the 6-foot-4, 254-pound linebacker racked up 229 tackles (16 for loss), 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and six passes defended in 27 games. With his development at Ohio State, Perry became a fourth-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft.

If Pierce can hone his skills much like Perry did early on in his OSU career, he could have a similar impact as Perry did in the scarlet and gray before his career is done.

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