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Tennessee Veteran Cooper Mays Details Decision to Return to Vols in 2024

Cooper Mays
Tennessee center Cooper Mays. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

It’s hard to overstate just how important the return of Cooper Mays is for Josh Heupel’s Tennessee Volunteers during the 2024 season.

Mays, a player who has found starts in all four seasons at Tennessee, is invaluable to the Vols’ offensive line. The Knoxville native has 31 starts throughout his Tennessee career and has been a staple at the center position for the Vols. Mays’ experience will be crucial to the early-season development of quarterback Nico Iamaleava coming up in the 2024 season, too.

Mays announced that he would return for the 2024 season on Dec. 15, stating on social media that he was coming back to “finish what [he] started.” Mays missed the first four games of the 2023 season due to a minor medical procedure that took place during training camp in August.

“That kind of played into looking at the NFL and everything,” Mays said on Tuesday about how the injury impacted his decision to return. “I think it’s a big strong suit if you can go into your draft process being super healthy and showing that you can stay healthy a whole year. So that was one side of it, for sure.”

Mainly, though, Mays’ decision was impacted by his family and teammates.

“My family was the biggest thing, you know?” Mays said on Tuesday. “I trust my family and all of my teammates to kind of help me out with the process. I love it around here. I love being a Volunteer. No better way to finish it than try to finish it the right way and be here with my brothers.”

Cooper’s brother, former Tennessee offensive lineman and NFL Draft pick Cade Mays, was a sounding board during his decision.

“Cade is a huge part in kind of everything I do,” Mays said about his brother. “He’s a guy that has been there, done that. He told me to just figure out what I wanted to do. Cut out all of the outside noises and what everybody else wants you to do. Be where you’re comfortable and your heart will lead you to where you’re supposed to be. A lot of prayer and stuff went into it and I think I figured out where I wanted to be.”

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The 6-foot-6, 206-pound elephant in the room when talking about anything related to the 2024 season is none other than quarterback Nico Iamaleava. The former five-star recruit sat and learned behind veteran QB Joe Milton III this past season but will officially take over the reins in 2024. Mays’ return at the center position is massive for the quick development of the young quarterback.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s a big part of it,” Mays said about how much the involvement of Iamaleava impacted his decision. “Just wanting to help him out. I think that you want to be there for all of your teammates and everything. I think that’s something I feel very strongly about. But, yeah, I never really worried about Nico going anywhere.”

Mays has been impressed with his future quarterback during his time on the practice field and in-game throughout his limited action as a freshman.

“You can tell he’s a great person,” Mays said about Iamaleava. “He’s very humble and eager to learn and ready for his opportunity. You can tell he’s been raised very well by his family and by his parents. Just a really good kid and that’s the foundation of it all, is being a good person. And that gives you a big chance to do anything you want in football. He’s a hard worker and, obviously, very talented. That kind of goes without saying. He’s going to continue to get better every year here.”

At the time of this publication, Tennessee has had center Cooper Mays, offensive tackle John Campbell Jr., and offensive tackle Gerald Mincey all announce their return for the 2024 season. The Vols are still waiting on an announcement from LG Javontez Spraggins but have a great start with three veterans all returning to the offensive line.

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