In a game against South Carolina last year, Andrew Thomas went down with an injury. So Georgia head coach Kirby Smart called upon Cade Mays.
There was one slight problem — Mays was wearing the wrong number.
Slated to be an extra tight end, Mays was wearing No. 42 rather than a number between 70-79, which NCAA rules recommend for tackles.
“I heard coach Smart yelling ‘Cade, Cade, Cade,’” Mays said. “I’m like, ‘Oh God,’ I’m scrambling around, trying to find anybody to get me this big jersey to put on … I had to run out there and tell the referee that I was checked in and that I was wearing a new jersey.”
Mays was the No. 3 offensive tackle in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite. He grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, with father Kevin Mays, a former All-SEC guard at Tennessee in the 1990s. Mays’ little brother Cooper committed to Tennessee as a member of the class of 2020.
But Mays had different plans. When he unbuttoned his dress shirt and pushed his tie aside to reveal a Georgia logo in a ceremony at Knoxville Catholic High School, his father gave him a hug, buried his head into Mays’ shoulder and patted him on the back.
The love wasn’t there on Twitter, where he received hate messages for his decision. Mays said the best thing for him was to listen to his parents.
“They told me from day one, ‘You want to go to California and play, we’d be at every single game. We’ll make it work no matter what,’” Mays said. “They supported me and I just made a decision that was best for me.”
Since he was a kid, Mays’ versatility has been one of his biggest strengths. As his coach, Kevin Mays took notice.
“When we were playing youth ball, anytime we were running to the left, he’d have me on the left side,” Mays said. “And anytime we were running to the right, I’d be on the right side.”
Mays is listed at 6-foot-6, 318 pounds. But he can still run fast, Georgia defensive lineman Tyler Clark said. His versatility allows him to take reps at multiple positions.
“If you can play center, left tackle and guard, you are pretty talented, and you’re bright,” Smart said.
Senior defensive tackle Michael Barnett said Mays is one among many on the offensive line that can switch things up from time to time.
“Playing against all those guys, it’s like you never know what you’re going to get,” Barnett said.
Mays has handled the change well.Last year as a freshman, he participated in 75% of Georgia’s offensive plays during SEC games.
Smart will call his number a lot this year. Maybe this time, Mays will be wearing the right one.