ATHENS The recruiting services said Georgia football signee Cade Mays was a 5-star prospect.
Mays was once ranked the No. 1 player in the 2018 Tennessee High School signing class, and the No. 3 offensive tackle in the country.
When Mays, the son of Vols legend Kevin Mays, was committed to Tennessee and former coach Butch Jones, the rankings were celebrated by hometown fans who watched Mays star at Knoxville's Catholic High School.
Indeed, Tennessee had the highest rated class of commits when the 2017 season began, with high-profile quarterback Adrian Martinez also committed to play for Jones.
But when the Vols season went sour and the fanbase turned on Jones, Mays made the decision to de-commit, and Martinez ultimately shunned the new staff and chose Nebraska.
The Tennessee fan base is understandably as unsettled and as anxious as any, having not been to the SEC Championship Game since the year before Tennessee legend Phillip Fulmer was fired (2007).
Mays de-commitment was met with a great deal of anger on social media, and there were hard feelings, and hurt feelings.
"It definitely was hard," said Mays, who may finally get some relief from upset Tennessee fans now that his talented younger brother, Cooper, is committed to the Vols.
"I was getting all this hate, but I was doing something for me. My parents told me it doesn't really matter what the outside world thinks, my family loves me, and my God loves me."
Mays said he dealt with it as best he could.
"I just put the phone down and confided in my family," Mays said. "No one has ever really come up to me in person and tried to start anything."
Keyboard warriors aside, Mays quickly proved at Georgia that he was indeed every bit as good as the 247Sports Composite rankings indicated.
Georgia was battling SEC East challenger South Carolina in the second game of the season when preseason All-SEC left tackle Andrew Thomas went down with an injury.
Mays remembers Kirby Smart yelling for him to get on the field, but before that, he had to switch jerseys.
"I was actually wearing number 42 during that game, I was supposed to be the tight end, the extra big guy," Mays recalled. "Then I heard Coach Smart, yelling Cade, Cade, Cade.' They gave me this big jersey to put on, and I had to run out and tell the ref I was checking in with a new jersey."
Mays started against Middle Tennessee the next week and was back in the relief role in the fourth week when Thomas left the Missouri game after re-injuring his ankle.
Georgia right guard Ben Cleveland also was injured against Missouri, breaking his fibula, leading to Mays starting the following week against Tennessee in Cleveland's spot.
Mays played in 11 games last season before suffering a shoulder injured that sidelined him for three games, but he earned FWAA Freshman All-American honors.
2019 glue guy
That versatility continues for Mays, who has added the ability to play center to his repertoire.
"I like being that useful, if anything happens, I'm the guy that can be plugged in," Mays said. "It has helped knowing the center spot and learning the offense and what everyone is doing.
"I think it's helped me pick my game up and elevated it to a new level."
Mays, now 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, was working with the first team at right guard in Tuesday's practice.
Among those most impressed with Mays is former Auburn lineman and ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic.
"Ilike the way he plays more than any of those other guys in that entire group," Cubelic said this summer. "Cade is a finisher, he has that nasty you love to see and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He has room to grow fundamentally, but he's fun to watch, regardless.
"You routinely see him 10 or 20 yards downfield looking for contact on each play."
Mays says that's exactly how he wants people to think about him.
"I would say the best thing somebody could say about me is that I play hard, I love the game, and I just want to finish blocks on people," Mays said. "I want to be looked at as dependable, and I take pride in that."
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