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Tennessee Football: Vols C Cooper Mays provides perspective to teammates leading up to Virginia matchup

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Tennessee center Cooper Mays isn’t expected to play this week against Virginia in the Vols’ season opener. However, he isn’t letting that keep him from being a positive influence on his teammates.

During team and offensive line meetings, you’ll often find Mays, who has been sidelined since early August with an undisclosed injury, sitting nearby his replacements for the foreseeable future: senior Ollie Lane and redshirt freshman Addison Nichols. Lane is most likely to take Mays’ place against the Cavs.

“I think it’s crucial that the older guy helps the younger guy because as smart as you think you are as a young person,” Mays said during The Vol Report, “you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s not because you’re not smart. It’s just literally because you haven’t been put in a position to know and see the whole picture. So I’ve been trying to do that (help) a little bit. Guys like Ollie, even though he’s older (he could use tutoring). I think I’ve played the position and kind of can see some stuff that maybe he hasn’t seen and hasn’t dealt with before. So I just try to get in where I fit in, really.”

Lane’s expected starting position has been created partly because Nichols, who is considered the more athletic of the two centers, hasn’t come along quite as quickly as the Vols would have liked. Lane might not be as talented, but he has been with UT’s program since 2018.

“He’s a low key dude,” Mays said when asked about Lane’s personality. “He isn’t very outlandish and out all over the place. He’s just a Gibbs Eagle at heart.”

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Lane signed with the Vols as a three-star prospect from Gibbs High School in Corryton, Tenn., in 2018.

“He’s a quiet guy, but, a smart guy and a guy that is going to play hard and knows what he’s doing every play,” Mays said. “But really (he’s) just a Tennessee Vol. Just orange running through his veins.”

Lane has played in 28 games during his college career, but only started five contests. Moreover, most of that playing time has been when the game has been out of hand and Tennessee used backups to close out an opponent. Things are different now with Virginia this week in Nashville, Austin Peay in Neyland Stadium after that and a trip to Florida the following week.

“Preparing them for what’s coming, but at the same time not overhyping stuff,” Mays said of his leadership style. “…He’s (Lane’s) played a lot of football so it’s not like he’s foreign to what it takes and everything, but sometimes when guys haven’t played in a little bit and they get in there, people tend to think that they’ve got to be like Superman or that it’s going to be like the NFL out there.

“When I first came in and started starting, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ The anxiety was through the roof, but then you go out there and you play fine and you’re like, ‘That wasn’t that hard. It wasn’t that bad.’ The more you play, the easier it gets, but I think the biggest thing for when you first start is just really thinking that everybody’s better than what they really are. You’re all grown men out there at the end of the day and it’s it’s pretty evenly matched.”

Perhaps it’s evenly matched when Mays plays for the Vols. It remains to be seen if that will be the case for Lane. The college football world will find out on Saturday.

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