ATHENS — Georgia football offensive lineman Cade Mays was once considered the cornerstone of Tennessee’s football future, but on Saturday he’ll be going head to head against his home state school.
Plenty of eyes from Knoxville will take note of when and where the Bulldogs’ No. 77 lines up in the 3:30 p.m. matchup on Saturday at Sanford Stadium (TV: CBS, Radio: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM).
Georgia coach Kirby Smart is well aware the game will hold special significance for the Mays family.
Kevin Mays, Cade’s father, was an All-SEC offensive guard in 1994 under Vols’ hall of fame coach and current athletic director Phillip Fulmer.
“I think they understand and acknowledge it’s a big deal for them, being his dad played there, he’s a legacy and all that,” Smart said Tuesday night.
“But at the end of the day, when you get between the lines, a lot of that stuff fades out. You start playing the game, you play physical, you play hard.”
Cade Mays has already proven valuable for the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs, drawing his first career start at left tackle against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 15 with incumbent Andrew Thomas sidelined by an ankle injury.
Thomas is back from the injury, but now junior right guard Ben Cleveland is out with a broken fibula, and Smart has worked Mays along with two other players at that position.
RELATED: Georgia freshman Cade Mays getting long look at right guard
Indeed, the 6-foot-6, 318-pound Mays has been every bit the impact player his 5-star rating out of Knoxville Catholic High School suggested he would be.
“We’ve been going against each other since spring, bumping heads and getting each other better,” said junior David Marshall, a 6-3, 274-pound run-stopping defensive end. “He’s powerful and he has good footwork.”
Tennessee’s former coaching staff felt the same way, making Mays a lockdown priority in the 2018 signing class after signing the nation’s No. 1-ranked player in the 2017 class (ESPN), offensive tackle Trey Smith.
Mays had committed to Tennessee on July 13, 2015 and set to work helping to recruit more in-state prospects to the Vols.
“Today was about just trying to get the mid-state, West Tennessee and Tennessee kids in general to realize where their home is,” Mays said on the Vols’ 2016 Junior Day, asked about his role in attracting other players.
“At the end of the day that long-term relationship with him probably won out, especially with them having a new staff coming in.”
Tennessee threw the kitchen sink at getting Mays back on board, with Fulmer making a personal pitch as well as coach Jeremy Pruitt and his new staff.
But former Vols’ players said they understood why Mays went ahead to Georgia.
“If I’m a top recruit, I’m just thinking about if I’m Cade Mays or if I’m Kevin Mays that kid deserves to play for a championship,” former Tennessee tailback Aaron Hayden said on a radio show hosted by former Vols’ receiver Jayson Swain, according to Saturday Down South.
“He walks in at Clemson he’s probably starting, not next year but maybe the year after that. Why should you lower your expectations because your dad graduated or played at the University of Tennessee?”
Mays’ December signing with Georgia was accentuated by a Snapchat video that surfaced with him singing alternative lyrics to “Dixieland Delight” that disparaged Tennessee and Auburn.
Georgia and Tennessee fans have long moved on from the recruiting battle, and Smart is pleased with the effort and focus Mays has shown in Athens moving forward in his career.
“He wants to do as good as he can, but he’s got to focus on what his assignments are playing football,” Smart said. “Hopefully, he’ll be a guy out there, we still don’t know how the lineup is going to play out, but he’s a great guy and he plays hard.
“At the end of the day I know he’ll give an A effort.”
And, at the end of the day, Mays’ story is just one of many chapters in the longstanding rivalry between Tennessee and Georgia.
DawgNation: Georgia football vs. Tennessee
• The Vols have one shot at staying close to the Bulldogs
• Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt ‘itching to get going’ at Georgia
• Bulldogs will ‘never forget’ Hail Mary loss to Tennessee in 2016
• WATCH: Kirby Smart had plenty to say about Vols-Florida game
• Why Georgia football is a heavy favorite over Tennessee
• Tyson Campbell good to go, but Big Ben Cleveland is out on the O-Line
• D’Andre Walker is putting together a strong senior campaign, 3 sacks
• WATCH: Jake Fromm trying to take his game to a new level
• Georgia football: 5 things moving forward, orange alert