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Tennessee Football: Vols C Cooper Mays Finds Solace While MIA

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These aren’t the greatest times for Tennessee center Cooper Mays. While his teammates are preparing for the upcoming season, the senior is sidelined, injured and doing his best to keep a positive mindset. Thanks to his faith and some words of wisdom, Mays’ mindset isn’t an issue.

I’m doing well,” Mays said during The Vol Report on Tuesday. “Really I am. I really can’t complain at all. God is good. That’s about as simple as it is.”

Mays’ injury hasn’t been disclosed by Tennessee coach Josh Heupel, who said last week that his most experienced offensive lineman would be out for a “couple” of weeks. However, there has been no definitive time plan as to when Mays will return. Some have suggested that returning next week, as Heupel suggested, is a bit optimistic. Mays wasn’t comfortable commenting on when he might return when he spoke of being sidelined. For now, he’s dealing with the emotions of not being with his teammates with a highly anticipated season on the line and an opportunity for him to improve his NFL Draft stock.

“Well, obviously you’re going to be upset,” Mays said. “I don’t think anybody out there is going to be happy about missing any time. So you look at it and you’re just upset and kind of, I guess, questioning why something like that would happen,” Mays said. “You have a lot of questions going through your head (but) I’m not really the type of guy that sits here and stews over what has happened or whatever. 

“There’s just not much good, in my eyes, of being angry about stuff. I think there’s very few things that should make you angry and make you really change your mood. I think if something changes your mood or changes how you feel in the present time, it has complete control over you. So not a lot of things like that really penetrate my heart. So I was mad and just asking kind of like ‘Why?’ for an hour or whatever. But it is what it is. At the end of the day, there’s so much worse stuff going on. There’s a lot of ways to put it in perspective if you look for it.”

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Tennessee’s coaches have helped Mays put things in perspective by relaying a story about an injury that was far worse than what Mays has suffered. While at Central Florida, Heupel and his assistants saw one of the worst injuries in recent memory when quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a dislocated knee in UCF’s final game in 2018. After a long recovery, Milton played in six games for Florida State in 2021. Now, he’s an offensive analyst for the Vols.

“Mackenzie Milton played for Coach Heup back at UCF,” Mays said. “He was a quarterback, like a Heisman candidate, was going to be a really high draft pick. Ended up winning like 20-something games in a row when UCF claimed they had the national title…I think he’s taken it upon himself to help me out with what I’ve got going on, just kind of putting football into perspective and everything.”

In other words, things could be much worse. Mays’ injury isn’t thought to be anywhere near career nor season ending as Milton’s was when he was at UCF. Milton, like Mays’ family, told him to read the Bible.

“He told me to read Ecclesiastes, which I don’t know how many of the listeners have read Ecclesiastes, but Solomon was one of the wisest kings, like the greatest king of all time, very rich, had everything he ever wanted in the world.

“It was at his fingertips. And he wrote a book called Solomon’s Ecclesiastes. And it basically just talks about how meaningless all the stuff of the world is. Worldly things. In the end, it’s all meaningless. You can’t take any of it with you. And what really will give you fulfillment and happiness is the Lord and his ways rather than kind of catering to the ways of the world…It’s been really great being around him. For real.”

Mays and Tennessee’s football team may not be certain when he’ll return. However, Mays knows that he won’t be pushed to return to the field until the Vols’ medical staff and he believes he’s ready. Heupel will make sure of that.

“There’s not many coaching staffs in the country that are as, basically, I guess understanding…There’s few coaching staffs that really understand the whole person rather than just the football player,” Mays said. “I’m very appreciative to play for him. I’ve played for multiple staffs that were two pretty different staffs, but makes you appreciate Heup, the way he handles stuff. Like you said, he’s been here two-and-a-half years, and there’s a plethora of examples that show how just how good of a man he is. 

“I mean, at the end of the day, football is a game, and it provides great resources and opportunities for you. But at the end of the day, the human comes before the football player I think in his eyes, I think it’s the right way to look at it.”

Unfortunately, Mays and his family knows all about injuries. Mays’ father, Kevin Mays, suffered a freak injury after his career was complete at Tennessee. Shortly before the 1995 NFL Draft, the elder Mays suffered a knee injury that ended his career. Cooper also dealt with injuries as a sophomore in 2021. Injured or not, Mays is still heavily involved with making the Vols better as he coaches from the sideline and during team meetings.

“It was called leading from the bench,” Mays said. “…I think my place right now currently is filling the void of being a leader and being able to take a step back and see the whole picture. And I can help whoever needs help. And I kind of played that role my sophomore year, too, but I feel like I have a decent vision of the game and know how it’s played, so I try to feel that way and do what I can from that area.”

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