Wayne, a New Orleans-area native, was among the ones who got away when Payton was recruiting the area for the University of Illinois in his final year as a college coach in 1996.
Payton brought up that memory Tuesday when asked for his general impressions of Wayne throughout his stellar 13-year career and what he thinks of Wayne now trying to come back from a torn ACL at the age of 35.
It's possible that Wayne will make his preseason debut against the Saints on Saturday night, though that hasn't been decided yet.
"He's an extremely talented player," Payton said. "I know him a little bit uniquely because I was here in Louisiana recruiting high school players for the University of Illinois, C.J. and I."
That "C.J." refers to Curtis Johnson, the current Tulane head coach and former Saints receivers coach, who had a recruiting stranglehold on the New Orleans area back in those days. Johnson helped woo Wayne and safety Ed Reed, among others, to the University of Miami. Johnson also helped lure Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk to San Diego State, where Johnson and Payton first worked together.
"We spent a better part of a week going in and out of these schools," Payton continued. "I would say we got to about 30, 35 schools. Had I been just solo with a map, I probably would have gotten to 12. But Curtis would drive in, parking lot, back door, in a gymnasium, right to the coach, where normally you might go to the front desk and get a pass and go through all the correct steps. But that year, Reggie Wayne was coming out, that year Ed Reed was coming out. There was another good player coming out of St. Augustine High School, I think a defensive tackle, I can't think of his name. There were a handful of good players coming out. So I remember his recruitment, I remember hearing what I heard from Curtis and then over the years followed him.
"Look, he is very competitive. He's the type of player that could do that, that could recover from an injury like that. And he has had a great career."
I asked Payton if he ever beat out Johnson for a New Orleans-area prospect.
"Not while he was at Miami. No," said Payton, who remains close with Johnson and the Tulane program. "Every year there is great talent (in the New Orleans area). And one of the things he is doing so well at Tulane is identifying, recruiting, and those guys are winning their battles. It starts with the procurement of talent. He is very good at that."