He’s been described as “strong as an ox” by former All-SEC defensive lineman and nine-year NFL veteran Marcus Spears. Other college football analyst have surmised that he could end up being one of the best defensive linemen of the Nick Saban era.

For now, thought, Da’Ron Payne is content with the now, and the now is being very good to him.

He bench presses 545 pounds and he squats more than 600.

It should come as no surprise that the squat is his favorite lift in the gym.

He weighs 312 pounds, though he’d like to get to 308 by the time the season begins.

That strength manifests itself on the field, like when he flattened the Clemson center into the Tigers’ end zone, blowing up the play.

Payne has transitioned to a leader on the team. Whether by necessity because of the departure of Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson or by natural elevation, Payne’s time is now.

Will he play exclusively inside or will he do both? Quite frankly, he doesn’t care.

“I don’t know, whatever coach needs me to do,” Payne said. “I’m willing to do whatever. I can do the 3-tech, the 2 or the nose guard.”

At Shades Valley High School, Payne tipped the scales at approximately 350 pounds. By the time of his first fall camp he weight 320. Now he’s smaller than ever.

“Just the way teams are playing now, it’s more fast-paced and just on the ball, on the ball. I just got to get ready for that,” he said.

That leadership element, while new, is something Payne welcomes. He’s seen every great defensive teammate before him take on the responsibility and now it’s just his turn.

“It’s something new, because being from where I came from, I just like to sit back and listen and just learn,” he said. “But now guys are coming to me asking me for advice and stuff. It’s something like a learning curve.

“Like all the guys on the D-line that I’ve played with. Like Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, Jon (Allen) Dalvin (Tomlinson), all those guys. I just try to take all the advice from them.”

Now it’s his turn to dispense the advice.

“It’s just something new because usually, like me, I’m not always asking them what can I do to do this, now they just come asking me for advice.”

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.