NBA draft prospect Elfrid Payton Jr. has his dad's defensive instincts

Periodically, Mike Pringle's phone beeps with a text message from a teammate on the Baltimore Stallions' 1995 Canadian Football League champions. Check this out, the message reads, followed by a link to game-action highlights of a gifted college basketball player.

The texts are from Elfrid Payton Sr., the Stallions' star defensive end. The videos are of his son, Elfrid Jr., who's expected to be a first-round selection in Thursday's NBA draft.


Pringle watches the highlights in awe.

"He [Elfrid Sr.] is a proud daddy, as he should be," said Pringle, a CFL Hall of Fame running back. "I'm not surprised at [his son's] talent. They're both strong competitors, confident in their abilities and outstanding on defense."


A 6-foot-4 point guard, Elfrid Jr. averaged 19.2 points, 5.9 assists, 6 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game this fall as a junior for Louisiana-Lafayette, which reached the NCAA tournament.

"He's a super penetrator who plays with both a chip on his shoulder and extreme confidence," Ragin' Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. "Elfrid has his dad's fire as well as a maturity which is helping him to move up the [draft] ladder. Most guys don't know where they want to be next week; this kid has the next 10 years mapped out."

Elfrid Jr. was named the Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year, an honor that sits well with his father, a CFL Hall of Famer whose 154 career sacks rank second all-time in league history.

"I look at him and see the way he gets after people, and that's all right," said Elfrid Sr., 46, of Gretna, La. "He's got long arms [a 6-foot, 8-inch wingspan], big hands, broad shoulders and quick feet like me. And he don't back down on the court."

Nor did his father on the football field. Acquired by the first-year Stallions in mid-1994, several months after the birth of his only son, Payton brought an edge to a bunch that carried Baltimore to a Grey Cup appearance that year and the championship in 1995. The Stallions remain the only American team ever to win the Grey Cup, and the lone club in league history to win 18 games in one season.

The Stallions relocated to Montreal in 1996 when the Ravens arrived. But nearly two decades later, tales of Payton's exploits linger.

"How much did he love sacking quarterbacks? How many guys who are taken out of games near the end sneak back onto the field to try for one more sack?" said Tracy Ham, the Stallions' CFL Hall of Fame quarterback. "You had to hide his helmet under the bench to keep Elfrid off the field."

Payton was a team leader from his first day in Baltimore, teammates said.


"He always made sure the team was fired up — kind of like a Ray Lewis, minus the religious part of it," Pringle said.

"Elfrid was a jokester in the locker room and an absolute beast on the field," said Jim Popp, then the Stallions general manager. "He could trash-talk with the best of them, getting [opponents] all riled up and rattled and out of their heads."

While playing for Montreal in 1999, Payton and a rival swapped punches on the field. Both were banished to their respective dressing rooms, where Payton broke down a door to continue the brawl.

"He was 'The Hulk;' he could change his demeanor," Popp said. "Giving autographs, he was unbelievable with kids, who would gravitate toward him. You always knew he'd be good with his own children."

Elfrid Jr. remembers coming home from grade school, popping a tape into the family's VCR and watching his namesake in action.

"It was cool to see your daddy play football," he said.


Elfrid Jr. played both sports until seventh grade, when Hurricane Katrina struck.

"Our football team disbanded, so I decided to go with basketball," he said. "I'm pretty sure that I'd have figured that out eventually, anyway."

Elfrid Sr. gave his blessing. For three years, he attended all of his son's college home games.

"You could hear him in the stands, shouting at the officials," Marlin said.

His parentage helped sculpt Elfrid Jr.'s persona, the coach said.

"This kid has been a joy to work with," Marlin said. "A year ago, on Father's Day, I called his dad and told him that Elfrid had made the U.S. Under-19 team, which won a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships. This year, on Elfrid's birthday [Feb. 22], there were scouts from 20 pro teams watching him in our game at Georgia State.


"In April, after he talked with his dad, he came to school, met with the coaches and told us he was entering the draft. He said, 'Thanks for all you've done but I feel like I can take the next step.' Then he broke out in tears and hugged us all."

His father's mantras will follow him to the pros, Elfrid Jr. said.

"'Don't let anyone outwork you,' that's the biggest thing he's taught me. Also, 'Be on time.' And 'Take care of your body,'" the 20-year-old said. "I listen, because he's been through it all."

How is he different from his dad?

"I'm nowhere near as talkative as him."

That's OK, Elfrid Sr. said: "You've got to have your own niche."