Vols Have Three Players Recognized As All-SEC

Pearce, Wright And Mays Honored

  • Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Between the Associated Press and Coaches All-SEC teams, Tennessee had three players earn recognition for their contributions this season in defensive end James Pearce Jr., running back Jaylen Wright and center Cooper Mays.

For the second straight season under defensive line coach Rodney Garner, the Vols' produced a first-team All-SEC edge rusher as Pearce Jr.

was tabbed a first-team selection by both the AP and the league's coaches following a breakout sophomore season. He joins current Los Angeles Rams' rookie standout Byron Young, who earned first-team honors in 2022.

Pearce Jr. finished second in the league and was first among defensive linemen with 8.5 sacks in the regular season. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native was also tied for fourth in tackles for loss, totaling 13 on the year, to go along with a team-high 15 quarterback hurries.

According to PFF.com, Pearce Jr. was the highest graded defensive lineman in the SEC (86.1) and totaled 46 combined pressures (sacks, hits, hurries) for the season. His 11 quarterback hits ranked first among SEC defensive linemen and 11th nationally among all edge rushers.

Wright was tabbed a second-team selection on the AP All-SEC team following a phenomenal junior year in which he recorded the 19th 1,000-yard rushing season in program history, finishing with 1,013 yards on just 137 carries. His 7.4 yards per attempt led all FBS running backs with at least 100 carries.

Wright recorded six 100-yard rushing games this season, which was second in the SEC. His 35 runs of 10 or more yards ranked second in the conference, trailing only LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, who had 41.  He was also one of only six players in the nation with multiple rushes of 70-plus yards this season, including a 75-yarder on the first play from scrimmage against No. 1 Georgia.  

Rounding out Tennessee's All-SEC honorees was Mays, who was also tabbed a second-team pick by the AP. The Knoxville native played an integral part in the Vols' offensive success after returning from an injury that caused him to miss the first four games of the season. Mays was the anchor of UT's offensive line that powered a dominant rushing attack that ranked second in the SEC and 12th in the nation, averaging 202.6 yards per game. The unit was named a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, presented annually to the country's top offensive line, as well.

Mays started the final eight games of the season and did not allow a sack in 463 snaps. Dating back to last season, Mays has gone 13 straight games without allowing a sack. He is the first Vol center to garner first- or second-team All-SEC honors since Scott Wells in 2003.

At least one UT offensive lineman has earned first- or second-team All-SEC recognition in all three seasons under offensive line coach Glen Elarbee. Cade Mays was a coaches and AP second-team selection in 2021, and Darnell Wright was a unanimous first-team recipient in 2022. At least one Tennessee offensive lineman has earned All-SEC accolades for five consecutive seasons.

The SEC postseason individual awards will be announced on Wednesday while the SEC All-Freshman Team is slated to be released on Thursday.

To view the full All-SEC teams from the AP and SEC coaches, click the links below.

Associated Press All-SEC Teams
Coaches All-SEC Teams

Tennessee 2023 All-SEC Selections

DE James Pearce Jr. –  AP (1st Team), Coaches (1st Team)
RB Jaylen Wright – AP (2nd Team)
Cooper Mays – AP (2nd Team)

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