April 18, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — He was two years removed from football and not really doing too much. Then his telephone rang. A junior college in California needed a running back. Would he be interested?
Cameron Artis-Payne said yes, and now, almost more years later, the player who figured he would sign a basketball scholarship out of high school has a chance to play a role at tailback at Auburn this season.
Cameron Artis-Payne, who will be 23 this season, has had a curious trip to Auburn and the Southeastern Conference.
"Two years ago I wasn’t even playing. I’m coming from sitting on the couch to going out to junior college and now here. It’s a big thing for me so I’m just taking it all in," Artis-Payne said.
Artis-Payne said he thought he was destined for a college scholarship out of high school. But he had played only one year of high school football. He figured the offer would be in basketball. But grades derailed that.
Now, he's older and wiser, has better grades, and now the 5-foot-11, 208-pounder can point to his 3,202 yards the last two seasons and his stature as the No. 1 junior college tailback in the country in the 2013 signing class. He did his best work at Allan Hancock College in California.
"He's a physical, tough guy," said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. "That's what stood out to me. He's starting to learn the offense. I really like his attitude. He's downhill guy."
Artis-Payne, who will be playing in Auburn's A-Day Game on Saturday, says he grown up along the way.
"I definitely feel like this is the right time for me to be here in my life," he said. "If it was a couple of years ago, I don’t know if I would be as focused as I am now. Me being older plays a part and it definitely helps."
Artis-Payne said he offers from most the Pac-12 schools, and some Big East schools, too. But he said he always wanted to play in the SEC. He liked it when Auburn called.
"I felt like I could play at that level so I just never gave up on it," Artis-Payne said. "I just kept training and trying to find an opportunity in order for me to make a move to get back to where I wanted to be."
Now, he's trying to learn a fast-paced offense.
"The spring has been good so far," he said. "I feel like I have been getting adjusted to the pace of the offense and that’s the big thing. Coach Malzahn and the offense is making it fairly easy to get adjusted. I’m just getting the offense down and the speed of the game down and just getting used to the guys and being around them."
Artis-Payne was noticed for football at Allan Hancock College in California. Less so when he played only one season at Harrisburg High in Pennsylvania. Maybe more so when he battles for playing time alongside the likes of Tre Mason and Corey Grant.
"I have always been comfortable going wherever. I never had a problem leaving or going to a new place or anything like that. I get adjusted fairly quickly," Artis-Payne said.
Artis-Payne said he was never "a highly-ranked, highly-touted guy." Or until he played junior college ball. Then coaches began calling.
"I just had fun with it because being out of football two years, I just enjoyed playing, period. Once my phone started ringing everyday then I was like, ‘Oh well, maybe I’m doing something good.’"
He said he learned a lot about discipline at junior college.
"That's definitely something I appreciated they taught me," he said.
And now, he has another chance.
"I always feel like I’m underrated," Artis-Payne said. "That’s just something that drives me; I want to be No. 1, period. When I wasn’t No. 1 on everybody’s list I still felt underrated ,but it’s not a big thing to me."
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