SACHSE, Texas — Just a few minutes removed from his last class of the day, Jared Mayden was in the coaching staff’s meeting room at Sachse High School working the white board, diagramming a play for one of his coaches.
Mayden, a four-star defensive back signee in Alabama’s 2016 recruiting class, was fresh off a four-day visit to Tuscaloosa, and wanted to show what he’d learned.
“This is an easy call,” Mayden told Sachse defensive coordinator Mitchell Reed, pointing to the board. “Once they started going over all their checks and triple checks, I got confused.”
Reed nodded, and offered Mayden advice on not overthinking things and getting bogged down.
“The first thing you need to do is worry about the position you’re playing,” Reed responded. “Once you master that, then you can focus on what the rest of the guys are doing. If you try to absorb it all at once, that’s when you can get overwhelmed.”
“Yes, sir,” Mayden replied, before heading off to the weight room.
Reed believes the transition from high school to college will be a seamless one for Mayden, and isn’t worried about the Sachse High School product’s football IQ.
Mayden was Alabama’s third cornerback signee to fax in a national letter of intent on signing day as the Crimson Tide brought in four defensive backs in this class. Mayden was the top-rated cornerback in Texas and a consensus four-star prospect.
“He’s very, very football intelligent,” Reed told SEC Country. “We played him at multiple positions in our defense here. Whether we moved him inside to play nickel back or we had him outside playing corner, he does a very good job of understanding what the concept of the defense is, what his job is and what the guys around him are supposed to do. … It made him a dynamic player for us.”
Tuesdays aren’t typically weight lifting days for Mayden, but the time spent in Alabama interrupted his workout schedule, so he decided to do “something light compared to what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Oh, and that trip to Tuscaloosa around A-Day weekend wasn’t for having fun.
“I was trying to get plays, and some type of leg up going into the summer. I wasn’t going there just to hang out,” Mayden told SEC Country. “It was more like ‘I’m going here to figure out what I need to do to help the team, and get on the field.’ Really went there to learn.”
While lifting, Mayden is the star in the eyes of his now former teammates. He follows the detailed manual Alabama sent him, which includes an exercise and eating plan.
At the start of his workout, two younger players attempt to train with Mayden. He welcomes the company as he transitions from squatting to bench press while also working in some tricep dips, pull ups and planks to keep his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame tight.
As the session progresses, more than 10 teammates gather around. Some join the workout. Some help re-rack weights. Others just stand around and watch. At one point, the majority of the group sang a rap song in unison while recording a Snapchat video.
Mayden remained on task, getting his lifts in despite the chaos around him.
“It’s definitely cool because I want them to do well,” Mayden said of the young players gravitating toward him. “Just because I’m going to Alabama, I’m not just going to workout by myself or just workout with other kids going D-1. I definitely want to push other people to reach their potential so they can go somewhere and play football too. I want to help the best I can.”
Sachse head coach Mark “Red” Behrens describes Mayden as a “special, high character kid” who is also an outstanding athlete. Behrens said he loves Mayden like a son.
“He was the leader out there defensively. He was our go-to guy,” Behrens told SEC Country. “He kept everybody calm. When the waters were rough, he was the guy everybody looked to. A two-year captain for me. Played and lettered all four years. The only kid to letter all four years in our program, ever. Started three games as a freshman. The type you could lock on. We put him on the best receiver. We’d play everything else, and he’d be the guy on an island.”
Through his leadership and play on the field, Mayden left a legacy at Sachse. Now he heads to Alabama in hopes of doing the same.
EARLY YEARS FORESHADOWED MAYDEN’S FUTURE AS AN ELITE RECRUIT
Katrina Salles, also known as “Momma Mayden,” initially hesitated before revealing her son’s nickname. Salles, a first-grade teacher in Garland, Texas, jokingly said she didn’t want to get in trouble with her second oldest child for publicly revealing what family and close friends have been calling Mayden since before he was a year old.
But after a 20-second pause, the mother of four couldn’t resist.
“When Jared was little, he only crawled for a short amount of time – maybe a month or two,” Salles told SEC Country. “Then all of a sudden, he would take off running. He would let go of stuff, and try to run. Whatever he was doing, he would never walk. He would always run. We started saying that he runs like a little Choo-Choo train. Over the years, the train dropped off so that’s how he got his nickname, ‘Choo-Choo.’ We still call him Choo-Choo. His little sister calls him ‘Jared Choo-Choo.'”
Mayden’s rambunctious personality as a toddler, along with being from an athletic family, led Salles to believe he could one day be a big-time football player. Currently, Mayden’s older brother, James Mayden, Jr., is a wide receiver at Rice University. Mayden’s younger brother, Jalen Mayden, is a rising junior and the starting quarterback at Sachse.
Salles said she picked up on the signs around the time Mayden was two years old.
“Our whole family is tied into athletics,” Salles said. “The boys grew up in athletics so there was always something to do. They grew up in the gym and were always there with older cousins. Trying to bounce a basketball at 1 or 2 years old was a no-brainer. Playing flag football in the yard with older cousins was a no-brainer. When he got older and started playing football, he was phenomenal. We just kept it going.”
It took Mayden a little longer than his mother to realize he could be a gifted football player. It wasn’t until his freshman year of high school when he attended a football camp at the University of Texas that things began to change for Mayden.
“I went to the UT (Texas) football camp as a corner. That’s when Mack Brown’s staff was there,” Mayden recalled. “I ran a 4.47 in the 40 (yard dash). Coach Mack Brown was like ‘Hey, run it again.’ They thought I was a senior. I ran it again, and I ran a 4.43. They didn’t offer me then, but they were all like ‘OK.’ Then we go off with the groups, I’m with the seniors. I’m just a freshman. I’m doing one-on-ones with the seniors, and they offered me a scholarship. After that, I was like ‘OK, I’m pretty good.’ So I just started focusing on football from there.”
The Texas offer was Mayden’s first taste of elite college football recruiting, but things happened a little too fast for the budding defensive back to grasp at the time.
“It was pretty cool. That was my first offer, and I was like ‘I’m going to UT,’” Mayden laughed. “I was really happy. I knew I had an offer, but I was so young that I really didn’t know what to do with it. It was cool though.”
Salles remembers that trip as well, but with an interesting twist. Looking back on it, Mayden probably should have been resting in bed rather than physically exerting himself in the Texas heat.
“He actually was sick as a dog, and we didn’t find out until later that he had strep throat,” Salles said. “We got up that morning and we were going to the University of Texas back when Mack Brown was there. He was complaining about his throat, so we stopped to get some cough drops. He was determined to do it because we had traveled that far. He was going through the drills, and there was a lot of whispering from a lot of the coaches. When it was his group’s turn to run the 40, he lined up like everyone else and took off.”
The Texas coaching staff, as Salles tells it, grew more intrigued by Mayden with each passing drill. She remembers the staff being “shocked” upon learning that Mayden was only a freshman.
Her son had just impressed one of the most high-profile head coaches in college football at the time.
“He was so proud. He kept coming over for cough drops,” Salles said. “It was an amazing camp for him. It was a strong testament to how much he wants to do this.”
Mayden is naturally a “smiler.” Salles said Mayden is “quiet, but if you wait long enough, you’re going to see all of his teeth.” That applies on the football field, too, where she remembers seeing him smile with his helmet on “because he really loves this.”
But something was different after that day in Austin.
“After he did well in the testing, you just saw the excitement despite the number of cough drops he was downing,” Salles said. “Then when they did the one-on-ones, they put him with the older group and they could barely get off the line. He was just pressing them to the ground. It was freaking ridiculous. That day, he couldn’t lose. He couldn’t lose. It was amazing.”
A WINDING ROAD TO HIS ALABAMA COMMITMENT
Mayden’s recruitment only intensified as he progressed through his high school years. College football blue bloods like Oklahoma, Ohio State and Notre Dame were all after his services.
The early offer from Texas wasn’t enough to keep Mayden in the Lone Star State.
“The more I went into the process, I knew I wanted to get out of Texas,” Mayden said. “Not talking bad on any of the schools, but Big 12 schools for corners, they’re going to pass a lot. But you’re giving up 50 points, 60 points a game. That doesn’t make you look good as a corner. Texas A&M, I didn’t really mess with them too much. After looking at that, I knew I wanted to go somewhere outside of Texas.”
After announcing a list of his top-seven programs on his 17th birthday (June 24, 2015), Mayden verbally committed to Oregon while at The Opening. But things were rocky throughout as Mayden flirted with de-committing that October.
In January 2016, Mayden pulled the trigger, dropping the Ducks to reopen his recruitment just a month from National Signing Day. Alabama made Mayden a priority, and he took an official visit close to signing day. But it was a meeting in Athens, Ga., the previous summer that ultimately led Mayden to Tuscaloosa.
“Really the only thing that got me to go to Alabama was (defensive coordinator) coach (Jeremy) Pruitt,” Mayden said. “I was committed to Oregon. I took a couple of visits, and one of my visits was to Georgia. I ended up de-committing from Oregon, and was looking for somewhere to go. Coach Pruitt hit me up like, ‘I’m at Alabama,’ so it made sense to go to Alabama.”
“Momma Mayden” was there every step of the way guiding her son through the process.
“She definitely has a big influence on me,” Mayden said. “She makes sure all of my morals are good. She’s a teacher, so she helps me with everything. Throughout the process, she didn’t pressure me to go either way. She looked at the academic side and let me worry about the football side.”
During the official visit to Tuscaloosa, Salles recalls meeting with multiple deans from the different colleges at Alabama, and appreciating how there was a “one-stop shop” for players to live, eat, get tutored and receive any other support they might need.
“Once I got there and saw the structure and how their academics were set up, it was a no-brainer,” Salles said. “If you want to graduate, you will graduate because there’s a structure in place. I was blown away. Their expectations were in line with mine.”
Nick Saban is known as one of, if not the, best recruiter in all of college football. But it was his wife, Terry Saban, who was the closer in this deal.
“What completely turned it around for me was watching Jared interact with Ms. Saban,” Salles said. “When they sat down and played the piano together, it was just beautiful. She is amazing, and he really took her words and love of the piano to heart.”
Mayden and his brothers had learned to play the piano a few years earlier after their grandfather, Donald Pierson, became ill. Pierson had been the church pianist and music minister for more than 40 years, but dealing with kidney failure and having transplant surgery kept him from playing. The Mayden boys saw picking up the off-the-field skill as a way to honor their grandfather.
“The boys learned how to play piano to surprise their grandfather,” Salles said. “They’ve been playing ever since.”
MAYDEN’S PREPARING TO MAKE AN IMPACT ON THE FIELD FOR THE TIDE
After finishing his collegiate career at the University of Kansas, Daymond Patterson began training athletes full-time in 2013. Patterson works with high school, college and NFL players through his company, The Raw Power Team.
“Being a bigger corner and knowing that as the athletes get better and the skill gets better every game and every down, he needs to be able to use his size to guard the big guys, but he has to keep that technique for when he goes against the little fast wide receivers or the Amari Cooper types at ‘Bama where he’s going – guys who run really good routes,” Patterson told SEC Country. “With great technique, he won’t get beat by those guys as a bigger corner.”
During their time working together, Patterson has watched as Mayden has fine-tuned his game and expanded his knowledge of the sport and his position. Patterson said the two biggest areas Mayden has improved in are how he mentally approaches each workout as well as his ability to help others.
“He coaches up the young kids that are out there with him – the guys that are trying to go through the same recruiting process he went through,” Patterson said. “Not only is he getting better on the field, I’ve also seen him improve his mental capacity for the game. He was already a smart guy, but now he’s able to pass along what he’s doing on the field to the younger guys.”
In Mayden, Saban believes Alabama signed a “very athletic” defensive back with “really good size” who can play both cornerback and safety. Physically, Mayden is developed enough to play from day one. At 200 pounds, Mayden is as big or bigger than any cornerback on Alabama’s current roster, according to the listed weights.
Mayden said Alabama’s coaching staff told him he’ll start out at cornerback, and will learn the “star” and “money” positions — the fifth and sixth defensive backs in Alabama’s nickel and dime packages.
Alabama returns Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitpatrick, who were the starters at cornerback during the spring. But if Fitzpatrick moves to corner full-time, there could be an opening at the star position, which is the fifth defensive back in Alabama’s nickel and dime packages. Mayden has an eye on that spot.
“The star in this defense is pretty complicated to learn. I’ve been trying to learn that and corner,” Mayden said. “I talked to Minkah. He said going into it throughout the summer, all he did was watch film trying to figure it out. He said even still, he didn’t even understand it until the end of fall camp. And even then, he wasn’t even 100 percent with it until like four or five games in. That right there just let me know that this is something that you have to keep on working at. That definitely helped me stay enthusiastic about the nickel spot.”
Locking up a job won’t be easy. On top of learning the playbook, Mayden has to battle against the three other defensive backs Alabama signed in his class as well as the returning players eager to remain in their spots, or earn bigger roles.
Mayden is ready for the competition.
“You not going to down talk anybody or do anyone bad, but at the same time, they know you want the spot and you know they want the spot,” Mayden said. “It’s going to help you work harder. Those who aren’t really concentrating on just the game of football — some of those guys in that group went to college to play football, but they may be more worried about partying or girls. You have to try to stay ahead of the competition and be about football.
“I didn’t choose Alabama because it was fun. I didn’t choose it because it’s in a great town. On my official visit, I didn’t go because it was a great party scene with frats. I chose it because it’s where cornerbacks go for football.”