One of the top offensive line prospects in the country for the 2023 recruiting cycle was on hand for the Tigers' spring game last weekend.
Payton Kirkland, out of Orlando, made the trek to Clemson with another elite-level prospect and fellow Floridian, 2023 DE Derrick LeBlanc.
It was Kirkland's first trip to the campus and the rising high school junior came away thoroughly impressed. So impressed that the 6-foot-7, 315 pound offensive lineman, who is widely considered to be a Top-100 prospect, is hoping to get back to town over the summer if schools are allowed to host camps.
"It was a great environment and I thought it was like a beautiful campus," Kirkland told All Clemson. "It is a great place to be at because you can really focus on a lot of the things that you have to do. I'll probably be back up there in the summer, probably June."
The dead period currently in place prevents recruits from having any face-to-face contact with coaches. Although, Kirkland does have a close friend on the Tigers' roster in defensive tackle Tyler Davis, who is also from Florida, and the two got to spend a lot of time together over the weekend.
"We just like drove around the campus and stuff like the city area, and (Davis) answered some questions about it," Kirkland said. "Then went to a restaurant with him and his family and then we just talked a little bit of football, positions and stuff."
Kirkland met Davis while the two were training together down in Florida. They have developed the kind of friendship that allows them to stay in contact, and they are regularly checking in on one another.
"Really just competing against each other at training and stuff like that," Kirkland said. "Just out there competing, trying to get better, and I met Tyler when he got back in town from school. He checks up on me, just checking up on performances and stuff like that. We started getting a lot closer in the summer, probably going to get back into it when he gets back in town."
While Kirkland already has racked up dozens of offers, the Tigers don't typically offer high school players before their junior seasons. However, that hasn't kept the Clemson coaching staff from keeping in constant contact with the 2023 SI All-American candidate. So far, they have liked what they have seen.
"I hear from Coach Caldwell and Coach Bates probably once a week," Kirkland said. "Coach Caldwell has told me they like my combination of strength, power and athleticism. He said they don't see too many much like me."
If the Tigers do eventually pull the trigger on an offer, Kirkland said it's definitely one that would stand out.
"It would mean a lot," Kirkland said. "I pretty much grew up watching Clemson dominate over these past years and they're a very consistent program. And the players that they produce always... they do well at the next level."
When it comes to making a decision, Kirkland said that he's still far too early in the process, but as it stands currently, he is thinking sometime before his senior season.
"Still trying to figure things out," Kirkland said. "Honestly, I think I'll probably have my decision made around the start of my senior season."