The uncertainty of whether Tennessee football coach Butch Jones can keep his job beyond the 2017 season created a severe recruiting hit Tuesday when Cade Mays, a nationally ranked offensive line prospect from Knoxville, officially de-committed from the Vols.
Mays, a 6-foot-6, 318-pound five-star recruit playing his senior year at Knox Catholic, has been a UT commitment since July 2015.
Coupled with Jones’ insecurity and a disappointing 4-5 season, Mays chose made his decision public on his personal Twitter account.
The tweet, in part, said: “I would like to thank Coach Jones, Coach Wells and the rest of the UT staff for everything they have done for me in the past 2 years. … After many talks with God and my family, I have decided to de-commit from the University of Tennessee.”
Mays’ father, Kevin, played football at Tennessee from 1991-94 (he was a captain his senior year) and that would have given the younger Mays legacy status, something the football program has made a huge deal of during the Jones tenure.
Since his non-binding commitment in 2015, Mays has been a “recruiter” for the Vols, whose 2018 class is currently ranked No.13 nationally by 247Sports. He took some visiting prospects fishing with him and was instrumental in getting Gibbs lineman Ollie Lane to commit to UT.
A U.S. Army All-American, Mays in the weeks after his reopening his recruitment visited defending national champion Clemson two weeks ago and Georgia, ranked No. 2 behind Alabama in the AP Top 25, last week. He is scheduled to visit Ohio State this weekend.
Mays clearly has his sights set on playing at a big-time Power 5 school and possibly in the NFL following his playing career at Catholic. Georgia, Clemson and Notre Dame, which is interested in the big tackle, could take three of the four College Football Playoff spots when the regular season ends.
Following his visit to Clemson, Mays, the state's No. 1 prospect, was quoted as saying: “I want to win a national championship and get the best opportunity to play at the highest level. Obviously, Clemson has the tools to help me achieve my goal.”
Clemson’s offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell was at Catholic last Friday to watch Mays and his Catholic teammates roll past Campbell County, 59-21, to open the Class 5A state playoffs. The Irish take a five-game winning streak into this week’s second-round matchup with defending state champion Farragut.
A year ago, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney came into Oak Ridge and closed the deal on All-America wide receiver Tee Higgins, who reneged on his commitment to Tennessee and reopened his recruitment, much like Mays has done.
The Tigers also landed former Catholic wide receiver Amari Rodgers last year.
It appears that John Currie, the Tennessee athletic director, plans to allow Jones to finish out the 2017 season before deciding to either fire or retain Jones.
Tennessee closes out the regular season with three successive SEC games at Missouri and at home against LSU and Vanderbilt.
The Vols are 3-5 overall and 0-5 in conference play.
Missouri is an 11-point favorite versus Tennessee and the Vols could easily be underdogs against the Tigers and Commodores. Tennessee has never gone winless in SEC play, but posted one-win seasons five times, twice in the three-year Derek Dooley era that ended in 2012.
If Currie doesn’t make a move with Jones until the season and the Vols lose their final three games, the question becomes: how many other players might drop off the Tennessee recruiting bandwagon?
Several UT players met with the media Tuesday. Here is an edited transcript:
Tight End Ethan Wolf
On redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s performance:
“Jarrett is doing really well. He is two games in. He continues to get better with each snap and gains more and more confidence in himself. Seeing the subtle improvements that he’s making each and every snap is reassuring.”
On a bowl game:
It’s on a lot of our minds, especially the seniors because it’s our last go around and we don’t want to finish not being there.”
“They’ve been a great team since I have played them. I think we lost to them my freshman year, but have been fortunate enough to beat them since then. They always play us hard. They have a really explosive offense and a solid defense. We have our work cut out for us, but we are an extremely confident football team and we are going to go out and give our best effort.”
Defensive Back Micah Abernathy
On being tested in pass attempts this season:
“We have played some pretty good receivers and quarterbacks this year and whether they decide to throw the ball or not we are going to defend it to our best ability.”
On challenges Missouri brings:
“They have big receivers. They have a wide variety of receivers in both size and speed. They have a lot of things that they do differently than any other team we’ve played this year.”
On the difference in Missouri’s quarterback between this year and last year:
“He is a lot more calm this year. He was pretty calm last year and mature, but I would say this year he is a lot more poised and he gets the ball out to his receivers.”
On motivation for rest of season:
“Right now, we are all playing for our seniors. We are trying to get them to a bowl game. Every year they have been here, they have made it to a bowl game. We are trying to continue that legacy and let them continue on.”
Offensive Lineman Trey Smith
On if he surprised himself with his play at offensive tackle:
“I did surprise myself. When you’re on the edge, it’s a different world. You’re on an island essentially. When I started playing in training camp, I told my coaches and friends that when you’re a tackle, you have to be a man out there. You’re not getting as much help like you would at guard or center. You’re on your own in a lot of things.”
On if he believes his play has had a positive impact on his teammates:
“Anytime you put some violent stuff on film, it’s going to rub off on other people. I think we all influence each other on this team. If we see a good strain, or if we see someone take somebody out or if we see a big hit, everyone else is going to feed off of that energy. If he’s doing this like that, I can do it too.”
Defensive Tackle Shy Tuttle
On if he feels full recovered from his injury:
“I’m getting there. I’m trying to improve every week in practice, but I feel like I’m progressing each week.”
On the importance of slowing down Missouri’s fast-paced offense with tackles for loss:
“It’s very important. Coach has been stressing that all year really. With tempo offenses, you have to get them behind the line and behind the sticks to make them slow down and do something they aren’t comfortable with.”
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)