There’s a big difference between who is deserving of being an invitee to SEC Media Days and who will actually go to Nashville for the annual event that begins on July 17. How will Tennessee Football and Josh Heupel handle it?
With all politics aside, I would take center Cooper Mays, tight end Jacob Warren and quarterback Joe Milton III if I were Tennessee. However, I strongly expect the Vols to take Warren, Milton and defensive lineman Omari Thomas. Why omit Mays, who is one of the best representatives of a student-athlete on Tennessee’s roster? There are two reasons.
First, it wouldn’t be a good look to not take Milton. He’s a senior and is replacing a Heisman Trophy contender. Not taking Milton would lead to speculation that he isn’t ready to replace Hendon Hooker.
Second, the Vols need to take a defensive player. Doing otherwise would lead to speculation that Tennessee’s defense will continue to languish as it did for most of last season. Thomas is the best candidate and will almost assuredly represent the Vols for SEC Media Days, which is widely considered the unofficial kickoff to football season.
It’s a bit of a shame that the Vols can’t take more than three candidates because Mays deserves it as much as anyone. He’s played several positions, perfected his craft at center and is a legacy. His brother, Cade Mays, and father, Kevin Mays, were standout offensive linemen for Tennessee – just like Cooper.
Cooper Mays would do an incredible job in front of the hundreds of media members in attendance. Along with Warren, he’s been one of the best speakers at a multitude of Tennessee press conferences. However, he’ll likely be the odd man out. We’ll find out for sure when the SEC makes it announcement next week, but it will almost assuredly be Warren, Milton and Thomas. That doesn’t mean Mays should be forgotten about.
If I’m Milton, who hasn’t played as well or as much as Mays, I’m going to make sure my center gets a shout out – a lot – when I’m behind the podium. After all, Mays was left off of the All-SEC team that was announced in December because there were only two centers selected. He was on the preseason list in 2022, which selects a third team. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be on the preseason list this season. Georgia sophomore Sedric Van Pran will likely be the first-team center, but Mays is all but a lock to be second team considering first-team center Ricky Stromberg from Arkansas is off to the NFL.
Warren, Milton and Thomas will do a fine job and Mays probably doesn’t care to make the trip to talk to a bunch of media types who will ask the same questions over and over. Still, being selected to attend SEC Media Days is considered an honor, one of which Mays is more than deserving of.