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Cade Mays has been going to Tennessee games since he was a little boy.
Now a 6-foot-5, 310-pound Volunteers commit, the 5-star UT legacy and Knoxville Catholic star can’t recall Neyland Stadium ever rocking as hard as it did Saturday during Tennessee’s thrilling comeback win over Florida.
“That was definitely the best environment I’ve ever seen in Neyland Stadium,” Mays told me.
“The energy at the ‘Vol Walk.’ The energy from everybody during the game. We got down, but the fans (stayed). There was some stress, but when the fans get rolling, we get rolling. It’s unbelievable how involved Tennessee fans are. Their love for football down here on Rocky Top is unreal.”
Mays, who committed to Tennessee over a year ago, is the No. 11 prospect in the Class of 2018, so the 5-star offensive tackle has assumed the role of headline recruiter for the Volunteers.
Mays has relished in the responsibility, too, fulfilling a family legacy set by his father and uncle. Kevin Mays, Cade’s dad, was Tennessee’s team captain in 1994, earning All-SEC honors as an offensive lineman. His uncle played for the Vols, too. Cade lives and breathes Tennessee football, so he’s the perfect pitchman for Butch Jones.
“I just take pride in Tennessee football. Even though I’m not up there yet, I just take pride in it,” Mays said.
“When they lose it hurts me. You can ask Emil (Ekiyor). Last year when we lost to Florida, I called him and was distraught. It’s something I take pride in. I want to be a national champion, so I’m taking on that role trying to get us there.”
This summer, Mays’ first target was 4-star Coffee County athlete Alontae Taylor. The two had hit it off at multiple Tennessee games and camps, with Taylor eventually flipping from Vanderbilt during ‘Orange Carpet Day’ in June.
“I came to a couple games and Cade was there,” Taylor explained to me.
“After a couple games, Cade basically said, ‘Why not come to Tennessee? Why not represent your home state? Why not come here and say that you’ve played for Tennessee?’”
Taylor ultimately decided he wanted to team-up with Mays, and now the two have formed a dynamic duo on the recruiting trail.
They’re delivering that same message, too.
Why not come to Tennessee?
“People always tell me whenever I’m up at UT, ‘You’re always here.’” Mays said.
“So I’m like, ‘This is a second home to me. It’s a home away from home.’ I just tell them there’s no place like it. People up North. They talk about football. I told Micah (Parsons), you talk about football up there but you come now here and you see what football is really about. He didn’t really believe me, but I told him. ‘Just wait.’ And when he left he was like, ‘You were right. That was unbelievable.’ I just tell folks to come see a game. And then when they leave they’re just blown away. They can’t believe the atmosphere. The love for football down here in the South is (unmatched).”
Both Mays and Taylor have identified a ballyhooed bunch of targets, with prospects spanning the ’17, ’18 and ’19 classes.
During the Florida game, Taylor sat with nearly a dozen Tennessee 2017 commits, and the group made sure the surrounding top targets took notice.
“We were out there recruiting,” Taylor said.
“There were times when we made a big play and we — I was sitting with all the 2017 commits in a big group — and we just turned around and looked at Deangelo Gibbs and threw our hands up like, ‘What’s up? What are you going to do.’ We pointed at Trey Smith and were like, ‘What’s up? It’s the place to be. Why not Tennessee?’”
Smith, an offensive tackle from University School, remains Tennessee’s most important remaining target in the 2017 class.
The 5-star recruit, who will announce his decision on Dec. 6, sat with Mays on Saturday. Tennessee remains in solid shape to land the coveted tackle, and Mays said Smith really enjoyed himself at the game on Saturday.
“We were rocking out with Trey,” Mays said.
“I’ve never seen that dude so hyped in my life. He was going crazy.”
Mays and Taylor, along with a select group of 2017 and 2018 guys, have a group chat going and they’ve identified a some key guys they’d like to join forces with on Rocky Top.
Names include …
* Trey Smith. Mays has developed a strong relationship with a No. 1 prospect in the Volunteer State. The pair bonded at Tennessee’s ‘Elite Lineman’ camp in Jackson this summer. I asked Mays who would play left tackle if Smith committed to the Vols. Mays said, “Anybody. It don’t matter with us. As long as we’re on the same line we’ll be making holes.”
*4-star offensive guard Emil Eyiyor. The 2018 Indianapolis native is close friends with Mays and is “a big priority” for UT. He visited this past weekend and considers UT among his top schools.
* 3-star quarterback Justin Fields. The Harrison (Ga.) standout has skyrocketed up Tennessee’s board and is the Volunteers main quarterback target for 2018. Fields tripped to Tennessee for both the Ohio and Florida wins, with Taylor saying, “As soon as we found out we didn’t get Emory (Jones), Cade texted me and said Justin Fields. I said, ‘Ok.’ I talked to him for a little bit (on Saturday). I just wanted to see where his mind was at. He just keep telling us, ‘’Things are looking good.’ So we’re still working hard on him.”
* 5-star defensive end Micah Parsons. Tennessee made a real impression on the 2018 Pennsylvania native over the weekend, and Mays said the Penn State commit will definitely give Tennessee an official visit next fall.
* Other targets include 2018 Ohio tailback Jaelen Gill, 2018 Brentwood receiver Camron Johnson, 2018 Ohio defensive end Malik Vann, 2018 Texas wideout Joshua Moore, 2018 in-state defensive lineman Greg Emerson and Brant Lawless and 2017 5-star Clariton (Pa.) cornerback Lamont Wade.
“We were pointing at (Wade), too,” Taylor said.
“He was telling us he’s really going to think about it. And then after the game was when we really go to him in the locker room, telling him, ‘There’s no place like Tennessee.’ You can’t find any atmosphere like that anywhere else. I don’t care where you go. You can try to name some places, but there’s not going to be any atmosphere like Neyland. There’s not going to be a fan base as good as Tennessee.”
Taylor, who will likely play receiver at Tennessee, continued, saying, “When you go to a school like Tennessee, a program that’s building brick-by-brick, a program that’s headed to great heights, you just want to play with the best, so you’re going to recruit the best.
“We’re chasing rings. We’re chasing for a national championship.”