ATHENS — Cade Mays looked angry coming out of the tunnel, his game face still on beneath his Georgia football helmet following a Sugar Bowl win over Baylor.
The Bulldogs were on the right side of the scoreboard, 26-14. But Mays had his hands full all night, surrendering two sacks and battling Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year James Lynch and a veteran Bears’ D-Line.
Smart’s choices for player representation are often telling.
Jake Fromm, who recently decided to forego his senior season, was rarely made available the final month of the regular season after his confidence was shaken following a home win over Kentucky that included halftime boos.
Smart said in December the players felt interviews were a “large burden” and “taxing,” explaining why he had closed practices the final month of the season and muzzled players during the bowl prep in Athens.
So as Mays stood before the cameras at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for what would be his last video interview as a Georgia player, some wondered if this could be a sign he would assume captainship of the offensive line.
Cade Mays final video interview as a UGA player, 12-28-19
Mays started 11 of 14 games for the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs this season, lining up at each of the offensive line positions as well as tight end and fullback at different points.
Mays spoke enthusiastically about Matt Luke, who joined the Georgia coaching staff to replace Sam Pittman as O-Line coach after Pittman was hired as Arkansas’ head coach.
“I’m just trying to lead the group,” Mays said, “just trying to get those guys ready, get them confident.”
Those words rang familiar from Mays.
Rocky Top recruit
Some 2 1/2 years earlier, Mays stood in the lobby of the Tennessee football building during one of the busiest recruiting weekends. His message was for the best players in the Volunteer State to stay home and play for the Big Orange, just like he planned to do.
Mays was the cornerstone of a recruiting class of commits that ranked atop the SEC at the start of the 2017 season.
Cade Mays, circa 2017, a proud Tennessee commit and recruiter
A 5-star prospect from Knoxville Catholic High School, Mays’ father, Kevin, was a team captain under College Football Hall of Famer Phillip Fulmer.
But Mays was more than just another recruit. He represented hope Tennessee could continue its ascension under then-coach Butch Jones.
The Vols had cracked the Top 10 for the first time in nearly a decade after a Hail Mary win at UGA in 2016 and closed that season with a third straight bowl victory and record-setting offense.
By November of 2017, the winds had changed atop Rocky Top.