By Alex Norman
With the early signing period (December 18-20) about to begin, high school football players will soon make their college plans official.
For Knoxville Catholic 4-star offensive lineman Cooper Mays, it was a choice he’s been certain of for a while.
“I’m really comfortable with my decision,” said Mays. “I’m really excited to get on campus. I’ve always felt East Tennessee was my home. I’ve lived here my whole life, so it made the decision that much easier to be closer to home and kind of carry on the legacy.”
Cooper’s father Kevin Mays was a standout offensive lineman for the Vols in the mid-1990s. His Uncle (Michael Frogg) was a Vol lineman in the 2000s. Cooper’s big brother Cade was committed to Tennessee, but flipped to Georgia at the end of the Butch Jones era when everything went wrong in that 4-8 season in 2017. Some opposing programs hoped that history would repeat itself with Cooper, as the calls kept coming.
“Especially during the early part of the season where we (Tennessee) didn’t have the greatest start we thought that we would have,” said Mays. “A few people tried to capitalize on that. But a few months before I committed, I started knocking schools off… not going to them and saying ‘Hey I’m done,’ but kinda distancing myself from most of those schools that I knew I wasn’t going to. So I kinda removed myself from the recruiting scene a few months before I committed because I kinda knew where I was going.”
Mays hopes to earn playing time sooner than later. It’s what the Vols coaches foresee as well.
“They just want me to come in and make a pretty significant impact pretty early in my career and sustain that at center, offensive line, interior line… I can play any of those positions,” said Mays.”Anywhere they need me, I’m fine with playing it. They are looking at center mainly but anywhere they need me I’d be fine with playing anyplace else.”
Mays kept a close eye on the Vols this year, and how they rebounded from a 2-5 start to finish 7-5, and earn a bowl game berth for the first time since 2016.
“Super proud of those guys and how the coaching staff turned it around,” said Mays. “We had a rocky start but I think they finished it out as good as they could. Really proud.”
Mays not only will sign early, but will enroll at Tennessee in January. “Basically my brother (Cade) was first to early enroll from (Knoxville) Catholic, and it was a big emphasis that my Dad put on it because you can go a few months early and get into school and even more than academics you can further it from an athletic standpoint. Get your strength up, You can learn the plays before everybody. All around it’s a really good decision, academically and athletically.”
According to 247Sports, the Vols Class of 2020 is currently ranked 20th in the nation, 8th in the SEC. There’s still a little time for that class to move up in the rankings, and Cooper is doing his part to try to make that happen.
“I always try to pride myself on being a leader in this class,” said Mays. “Me and Keshawn Lawrence (4-star safety from Nashville) and Harrison Bailey (4-star quarterback from Marietta, GA) and a few of the other guys. I try to reach out to as many guys as possible that we want and make sure they have a familiar face if they ever want to visit campus and know when they make their decision that they have my support, so I always try to stay on the guys that we are targeting.”