Despite dropping a game late in the season to South Carolina, the Vols played their way into the Orange Bowl. There will be a lot of orange in Maimi as Tennessee football faces the Clemson Tigers.
Junior Cooper Mays was pretty happy the Vols got sent to Miami versus other probable landing spots like Texas in the Cotton Bowl or New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl.
“I think it’ll be a good time, good bowl trip,” Mays said. “I’m excited for it. I think all the guys are pretty excited for it. It’s a fitting bowl for us.”
Being a Knoxville guy and playing his high school football at Knoxville Catholic, Mays has played with a couple of athletes who went to Clemson. Amari Rodgers, the son of Tee Martin, crossed paths with Mays while at Catholic. Rodgers is playing in the NFL now.
Mays also played with Bryn Tucker, who he was at Catholic with. Tucker is at Clemson currently, playing offensive line for the Tigers. Mays will get to catch up with his old friend when Tennessee football faces off with Clemson.
“I think he loves it there, and I’m really excited to see him,” he said.
Mays doesn’t just have connections with Clemson from his former teammates but also through his brother. Cade Mays received an offer during his freshman year of high school. The Tigers did not recruit 6-foot-3 and 296-pound Cooper.
“They don’t offer people in the early years of high school, so it was a pretty big deal,” Mays said of his older brother’s offer. “Then me, they never really recruited me. I think I was too small. I think they wanted to get bigger up front.”
Cade Mays loved Clemson so much it was one of his top two schools. Ultimately, the older Mays brother decided to take his talents to Georgia.
Clemson’s recent success has not been foreign to Mays. When Mays began his recruitment process, the Tigers were a school that caught his eye.
“I would say they’re in the elite category,” Mays said. “I think they’ve only had a couple of years where they weren’t in the playoffs.”
Dabo Swinney took over when Mays was in elementary school. He would have been in middle school when they began their run of six straight ACC Championships and College Football Playoff appearances and two national championships.
Even before then, though, Mays was in elementary school when they won their first ACC Championship under Swinney in 2011. They have finished in the top 25 every year since that season.
“Since I started really getting serious and watching college football and kind of getting into the recruiting scene, probably middle school on, they’ve always been a really good team,” he said. “They’ve always had highly regarded recruiting classes and really successful in a lot of years and especially recently.”