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Tennessee Football: Cooper Mays talks Lance Heard, Vols OL culture

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Tennessee Football center Cooper Mays may be the most educated person in college football when it comes to NIL and the transfer portal. He has the experience.

Mays saw his brother, former Vol offensive guard Cade Mays, transfer from Georgia to Tennessee. Then, the younger Mays depended partly on NIL dollars to ensure he’d stay at Tennessee instead of pursing NFL cash. That will most likely work out for both parties.

Mays knows the Vols have work to do this season with a vacancy at tackle, most likely on the left side of the offensive line. Tennessee Football could have filled that need with a player currently on its roster but decided to target LSU transfer Lance Heard, who played in every game for the Tigers last season and started one contest.

Mays said he expects the transition from SEC school to SEC school will be a bit easier than for a player who was from outside the conference. Plus, the Vols know what they’re getting, compared to a transfer from a lower-level competition, because Heard has played in the SEC.

“Just looking from a from a pure recruiting standpoint, if you’re a transfer in the portal, you’ve already proven yourself,” Mays said. “Coaches kind of know what you’re about and what you can do on the field.” 

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Heading into coach Josh Heupel’s fourth season, the Vols have created a unique year-to-year symmetry that has worked well for the Tennessee Football offensive front. Cade Mays, who is currently with the Carolina Panthers, played with Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive lineman Trey Smith, who helped mentor Cooper.

“Cade’s obviously my my real big brother, but I guess you could say Trey’s on that same level, too,” Cooper Mays said. “Me, Cade and Trey talk every single night. So if we’re not talking about football, it’s always just something.”

Cooper’s goal for the 2024 season is pretty simple: lead the Vols’ offensive line into becoming one of the premier fronts in the SEC. Much of that will depend on Heard, who has been working out with the Vols since January.

“He’s huge,” Mays said. “I’ll be there. That’s my job. I’m a center, so I take the responsibility in helping all the folks around me, so I’ll help them on that end. Some stuff he’s going to have to figure out himself a little bit and figure out who he is and his journey

“The biggest thing, I think if I were to transfer, I feel like the hardest thing would be getting my like being comfortable in the in the space I was in, finding my rhythm. Obviously nobody can do that by yourself. And, you know, I’m sure he’s happy for the challenge of it all.”

It remains to be seen if Heard will play left or right tackle. Mays said that shouldn’t be a problem.

“We cross-train a lot of our guys, played left and right is basically what that boils down to in simpler terms,” Mays said. “We’ve got to be prepared for anything. You know how it goes. Some some years you may not have any injuries and then some years you may have five or six, so you’ve got to be prepared for whatever comes.”

Wise advice comes from experience.

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