He is a rare and freakish athlete. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, he has a big frame and the strength to dominate players on both sides of the ball, but he also has championship track speed, running a 4.42 in the 40 and holding down the title of fastest high schooler in Washington. Taylor Mays won the 100m and 200m state titles last year, running 10.54 and 21.8, respectively - as a sophomore. Even more frightening is the fact that the Seattle standout may be faster this year as a junior.
"He's big, he's fast, he's strong and he loves to play," praises O'Dea High School head coach Monte Kohler. "He's a great kid. He works hard full-time off the field at everything he does, and he has a great family with great support."
Mays could be one of the top wide receiver prospects in the nation this coming year, if not for his affinity and abilities at free safety. He is a three-year starter on defense, where his heart lies, but he may take a bigger role on offense in 2005 to aid the Fighting Irish. Mays recorded 89 tackles and five interceptions at safety, 25 receptions for 514 yards and seven touchdowns at receiver, plus three more scores on punt returns (67, 70 and 80 yards).
"We put him in the middle of the field at safety and try to get him around the ball every time it's snapped," says Kohler.
"I love to play defense. I like to hit, not be hit," Mays comments. "Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not soft on offense. I'll run right through somebody, too. I'm bigger and stronger than most people, at least at this level. I can go over or around most anybody."
One reason Mays has been better showcased on defense is the nature of the Irish offense. O'Dea is a run-oriented team that racked up better than 2,500 yards on the ground last year while throwing for just 1,000. Mays led the team with more than half the receiving yardage and 70% of the receiving touchdowns, but he should get more touches next fall as he is more creatively integrated into O'Dea's offensive plans.
"We'll start him out at wide receiver and then move him around a little. He could see some time at quarterback," Kohler previews.
"I just want the ball," says a hungry Mays. "I'll play whatever way he can get the ball in my hands. I could play a little running back, too."
While many observers have excitedly talked up the idea of playing Mays under center his senior year, there is one non-trivial obstacle that stands in the way of the 6'3" athlete taking too many snaps at quarterback.
"I can't throw the ball," he laughs.
Offense will be a challenge, and no small amount of fun for Mays in 2005, but he is primarily focused on his defensive craft. As dominant a player as he has been the last two years roaming around centerfield for the Irish, he is still pushing to improve in some areas.
"I'm in man coverage only on the running back out of the backfield or when a team goes four-wide, and I could use work on my footwork and backpedaling," Mays allows. "My reads and vision really improved last year and were a big difference for me. I'll hope to continue getting better there. There is always speed and strength. I'm 220 now and was 210 during the season. I feel faster because the weight I've put on is lean muscle - mostly in my lower body."
"I just continue to not be satisfied and continue to get better," he sums up.
"Taylor has to learn that he's the best player on the field, and to dominate like he should," Kohler critiques. "You still have to go 100% even if your 90% is better than everybody else."
College recruiters are dreaming of having 100% of Mays in their program in 2006, and the attention is rapidly building around the O'Dea junior phenom. He has a national audience knocking on his door, at least to the extent that schools can legally do at this stage, with eight offers already in the back. It was a no-brainer for Washington and Washington State to pony up, and they were joined by Duke and Notre Dame. Lloyd Carr made the next offer for Michigan, while also extending a personal invitation for Mays to camp in Ann Arbor this summer. Stanford came next, followed by LSU. Yesterday, UCLA became the eighth school to extend an offer.
Mays talked with Cardinal head coach Walt Harris and running backs coach Wayne Moses, who played for the Washington Huskies in the 1970s as a teammate of the recruit's father, Stafford Mays.
"They said they really like me and they want me to come down and visit them. They're excited to get to know me," the younger Mays says of his talk with the Stanford coaches. "I was excited to be offered the chance to play college football at the highest level and also receive a top education."
Mays had the chance to visit Stanford two years ago for reasons other than football, and he still holds a favorable impression of the school as well as its surrounding area.
"Palo Alto was really nice. I liked it," the heralded student-athlete (3.4 core unweighted GPA) describes. "Winning teams and big bowl games attract you, but the opportunity to go to Stanford is hard to turn down."
Another opportunity that will undoubtedly be one Mays considers all the way to the end of his recruitment will be staying home and following in his father's footsteps as a Husky.
"Washington is right by my house, and that's really appealing to me," the Seattle safety asserts. "I like [Husky head coach] Tyrone Willingham, but I need to see how that goes. I need to meet him."
That meeting should occur when Mays makes his way onto campus for Washington's Junior Day on Saturday. The centerpiece of the day will be a rocking basketball game at the Bank of America Arena against the visiting Arizona Wildcats.
The O'Dea junior is still getting his feet wet with the whirlwind recruitment that has descended upon him. He tells The Bootleg that his current favorites ("not in order") are Stanford, USC, Washington, Notre Dame, Michigan, Miami, Cal and Nebraska.
"I haven't talked to all the schools contacting me yet, but it's going pretty well and I'm getting a better grasp," he comments on the evolving process. "I'll probably go visit a couple of schools this spring and more in the summer. If I feel comfortable, I'll go ahead and make my commitment."
"I will probably make a decision where I'm going early - before my senior season - so I can get it out of the way," Mays adds.
Colleges are falling all over themselves inviting Mays for unofficial visits and their camps, and those plans will take time to formulate. He does say that he will "for sure" unofficially visit USC, Michigan and Notre Dame. Mays maintains there are a number of factors that lead him to single out those three schools for visits, but warns that such a statement should not be taken as a proxy for a 'top three' favorites list.
This is just the beginning - just the tip of the iceberg - for Taylor Mays' recruitment. He sees himself making a commitment earlier rather than later, but there are certain to be many more offers and a host of complex dynamics yet to unfold for his journey. Stay tuned as we track his important story through the next several months.
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