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How God and faith helped Tennessee C Cooper Mays manage a devastating gut punch

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On last week’s Vol Report, a dejected Cooper Mays discussed Tennessee’s loss to Alabama and predicted that his team would bounce back this week at Kentucky. And bounce back they did. The Vols skated out of Lexington with a 33-27 victory over the Wildcats. 

It’s been a taxing season for Mays, who missed the first four games due to an abdominal injury. Much like the Volunteers, Mays has been mounting his own comeback of sorts as he works to get back to the level he was at pre-surgery. On this week’s Vol Report, a more jovial Mays talked about those challenges and how he relies on his faith to get him through the tough times. 

Saturday’s game was Mays’ fourth of the season. So, how is he feeling now that he’s settling back in the lineup? “I’m kind of finally getting back to myself a little bit,” Mays explained. “It’s hard to play O-line without having your core strength where it needs to be. I’ve been making a way and figuring it out. I think I’ve done a pretty good job at it, but (it’s) not really where I want to be, but getting there, getting closer to it every day.”

Last year, Mays began tweeting Bible scriptures after each game. It started when his mother would send him encouraging verses before his starts at center for the Vols. Explained Mays, “(The verses) are usually about having courage and just knowing that God is with you win or lose. God is super good and he’s good all the time.” 

“I always ask God to keep me safe and make me a soldier of Him and put His armor and everything on me,” said Mays. “And He does that. He’s kept me safe this whole time. So, I’m going to give Him all the glory.” 

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His faith in God provided him with the “right perspective” to deal with the pressures of not only college football but life itself. And that faith was put to the test with his injury this season. 

“A year with me being a senior with so much riding on it, it upset me how things turned out and having to get surgery… it killed me,” said Mays, who has been a longtime Christian. “There was kind of a whole shift in who I was internally after my injury because it helped me find the Lord.” 

It would be fair to say his strong beliefs help his proverbial glass stay half-full. 

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be a grown man,” Mays explained. “Things are not going to go exactly the way you want in life. It’s all about keeping on going and how you respond. Keep a smile on your face and do the best you can every day.” 

How close is Mays’ to being full strength physically? When asked if he could see the light at the end of the tunnel, his response was short and definitive. “Yeah, I always see the light. There’s always light here.” 

As Vols’ fans follow Mays on his spiritual journey and football career, the big question remains, will Mays stay at Tennessee one more season or head to the NFL Draft? Because of Covid, Mays does have another year of eligibility remaining, which means he could return for the 2024 season. The Vols could use the help as Tennessee is expected to have to retool most of its offensive line.

“I haven’t thought about (next year’s plans) at all,” Mays said. “I’ve got so much more work to do before I can even think about that. You know what I’m saying? We’ve got to finish the right way.” 

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