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Tennessee C Cooper Mays shares latest on his Vols’ decision

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As the transfer portal continues to whirl at an astonishing rate, Tennessee’s most important potential Vol for the 2024 season is still mulling his options. Center Cooper Mays’ is close to announcing his decision as to his future, but he’s not quite ready yet. His potential NFL Draft projection certainly is a huge factor in his future.

Mays told Off The Hook Sports that there are a limited number of teams in the NFL in which he would be a perfect fit for. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, approximately half, Mays said, would be a good fit offensively for his skills. Of those, only a certain number of teams, perhaps just a handful, need a center.

“It is all kind of is a culmination of a lot of details and stuff to work through,” Mays said. “There’s a lot of moving parts for sure.”

So why are some NFL teams a better fit for Mays than others?

“It’s just the the difference of how they run the ball,” Mays said during The Vol Report on Tuesday. “I mean, (pass) protection is pretty similar all throughout football, but some teams are more power run, downhill, just straight vertical movement and some teams like to spread it out and run more outside zone, (which) gets you on the edge and get things moving and the running back hits holes. There are different philosophies for sure, but there’s only so many ways to play football.”

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With a subtly confident grin, Mays said, “Me personally, I think I fit into any scheme, but I don’t know if everybody would agree with that. I think I can play anything.”

Tennessee fans are hoping that “anything” ends up returning to college to play center one more season for the Vols. Mays still has eligibility remaining since he hasn’t redshirted and has a Covid exemption year to utilize. How important was Mays to the Vols in 2023? Just look back at the season. The Vols were an offensive mess up front against Florida when Mays was sidelined with an abdominal injury. By all accounts, Mays has a sense of calm on the field despite being known as one of the Vols’ most aggressive players. Both attributes would have helped in Gainesville in September.

“I don’t know what it is, just being a good teammate man,” Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren said during The Vol Report when asked what makes Mays special. “If I’m losing on a block, he’s always right there.”

And when Mays isn’t right there, playing perfectly, Warren knows that there won’t be any sudden downturn in Mays’ play. That provides stability to a unit that was missing that key component in the Vols’ loss to the Gators and at other times when Mays was sidelined.

“Just being able to snap and focus and just look out for his teammates while also taking care of his job and making sure everybody knows that he’s got their back,” Warren said.

NFL scouts need look no further than Mays’ play against the then-No. 1 ranked team in the nation to determine his worth. Mays feels like his play against the Bulldogs was one of his best performances this season.

“I think you can put on the whole Georgia tape,” Mays said “I think I played really strong, played really well in (pass protection) and then showed elements of outside runs and more of a power scheme, you know, getting stuff going. I think the first play was really indicative of how how I play very violent and know the mental aspect of it, very fast to recognize what’s going on around me.”

The play that Mays was referring to came on the first snap against the Bulldogs when he helped spring running back Jaylen Wright for a 75-yard touchdown that put the Vols up 7-0 before eventually falling to Georgia 38-10. Mays was able to recognize that Georgia was utilizing a defensive front in which the Bulldogs’ linemen were looping around one another to create confusion for the Vols.

”There was a stunt where the nose (guard) hit one way and I kind of realized it pretty quick, slammed into him and kind of walled him off,” Mays said. “And once you get Jay right to a guy on the second level, (there’s) not much they can do.”

Mays has made plenty of similar plays against lessor opponents. However, playing well against the nation’s best teams has an impact with NFL scouts.

“For sure,” Mays said. “Obviously every game matters, but the games that scouts put on first are the Bamas and Georgias and the SEC opponents of the world. If you if you want to go out and play in the league, you got to show up on games like that.”

No one has ever considered Mays an emotional guy. He’s not the one to tear up at movies or fawn over kittens. However, there’s still plenty of emotional reasons to stay at Tennessee that have nothing to do with NIL possibilities or his draft projections. Mays’ father and brother played at Tennessee and Cooper attended Catholic High School in Knoxville, where his family still lives.

“I don’t know,” Mays said when asked how heavily those factors weigh in on his decision – if at all. “I’m not a super emotional guy, really. I mean, I feel things deeply and everything, but I’m not a guy that’s going to just fly off the handles and lose his mind and make brash decisions. You know, that’s not really me. I’ve grown up around people that have kind of lived like that and done that and I’ve kind of always known that wasn’t going to be me and it couldn’t be me, because I’ve always been a person that has tried to thrive off consistency…I like to kind of stay in the center, so it doesn’t really affect me that much.”

Mays admittedly doesn’t want to leave the Vols on a downer, which could be considered the case after an 8-4 season in which expectations were much higher following the Vols’ 11-2 season in 2022.

“I think everybody wants to leave on a high note and do the right thing and finish the right way,” Mays said. “At the end of the day, it’s all a part of a bigger plan and things are going to happen how they’re supposed to happen and you don’t really know why.”

Why is Mays’ return so important for the Vols’ success in 2024? Just watch that loss against the Gators. Then, you’ll know why.

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