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Veteran Vol C Cooper Mays building “the kids” confidence to push harder

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As most fans of Tennessee Football know, 2024 marks center Cooper Mays’ final season of eligibility. At 23 years old, Mays is one of the oldest, make that – most seasoned, players on the field. With the years comes the knowledge and experience it takes to be a successful athlete. This moves him into a newer role on the team – the one the younger guys look up to. On this week’s Vol Report, Mays discusses how this has changed him – and what advice he gives the up and comers. 

In his personal life, Mays has often been relegated to one status – that of Cade’s little brother. But Cooper is the only Mays playing in Knoxville and is no longer in older brother’s shadow. And he knows it’s time to embrace the role as elder – at least to his younger teammates. The kids, as he refers to them. 

“I’m honestly catching myself when I was saying (kids), I feel older than I probably am,” Mays said. “I mean, I’m only five years, four years older than these kids, but I don’t know, it seems like I’ve been here forever, so I feel like grandpa sometimes.” 

Mays admits that things might be easier if he could just go about his game and not be the sage upperclassman others might expect him to be. After all, he still has that second child mentality. “It’s just more unfamiliar and a little bit weird, because I’ve always been the little brother… and then I’ve always had people older than me in the room,” Mays noted. “And then this past year was kind of my first year where I felt like I was the guy that that kind of everybody looked up to a little bit in a way. So, it’s a different role and you kind of just got to grow into it a little bit.” 

One can only assume the advice he doles out to the young players is priceless. Who wouldn’t want to listen to someone like Mays, with the career he’s had thus far? So, what kind of tips would he give to the newbies?  

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“The thing is, everybody’s on their first try at this thing, and everybody’s been young, and some people take longer to get it than others,” Mays observed. “And some people get it faster than others. But some people you’ve got to talk to.” 

Speaking up is not easy for the normally reserved Mays and he knows it. But it is necessary. “I’m not a guy that likes to talk all the time. I’m not ever going to pick on a kid about something he struggles with. But at some point, you gotta speak up and help these kids because I was 18 once and I know how hard it was to keep focused and do the right stuff. But sometimes you gotta put in perspective for these kids that… this is your job. And if you can’t do the right things and show up the right way, and then you’re already messing yourself up and messing everybody else’s thing up, so gotta lock it in.” 

It was the support and help from his predecessors – including big brother Cade, that gave Mays the confidence he needed to play at a higher level. Something he can surely appreciate now in his last collegiate season.  

“I’ve never really gone out there and felt like I didn’t really belong, if that makes sense,” Mays said of his early playing years. “I had Trey (Smith) and Cade and Jerome (Carvin) next to me my whole time. So, they kind of took care of me. I knew I wasn’t going to win every play, but I knew I wasn’t going to get embarrassed or get done bad. I mean, at some point it’s a little bit of a pride thing. I’ve always been kind of outmatched my whole life. So, I just learned to deal with it and figure out ways to do it.” 

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