On Saturday night against the Missouri Tigers, needing a win to stay in control in the SEC East race, Cade Mays found himself in a position he hadn’t been in since sixth grade.
The Georgia sophomore started the game at what has become his customary position, right guard. But when starting center Trey Hill went down with an ankle injury with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Mays took over.
This is nothing new for Mays. His versatility has resulted in him being shifted all over the line, and playing center against the Tigers meant he has played every spot on the line this season for Georgia. And like always, when his team needed him to step up against the Tigers, Mays delivered.
“It’s awesome just being able to get the opportunity to go out there and do that,” Mays said of playing all five spots on the line. “It’s not something that many people get to do, so I’m thankful for that.”
The last time Mays found himself snapping to a quarterback, he was in his first year of middle school and said he weighed in at 240 pounds. Whether that was a joke or not, he described himself as “a feisty little center,” but he eventually moved to other positions on the line.
He also never played center during his time at Knoxville Catholic High School, although he did say carried the ball as a running back in a special package the team had.
Coming into the Missouri game, Mays had played 242 snaps at right guard, 65 at right tackle, 60 at left guard and 23 at left tackle, usually sliding around in place of fellow lineman who went down with injury. He’d even lined up as a tight end on occasion when the Bulldogs wanted extra beef on the field. Just one spot remained: center.
Center is a unique beast when it comes to a backup coming in. Much like quarterback, there’s a lot that goes with the mental side of the position.
“I was just making sure I was going to communicate to all four other guys with me that are around me, make sure I’ve got everybody on the right page, all that stuff,” Mays said. “That’s really the only thing going through my mind.”
Other than that, Mays came prepared. Head coach Kirby Smart said he took reps with the ones this past week in practice, as he usually does when Hill moves over and works as a guard.
“I look at it as practice in a game to me,” Smart said. “He gets a ton of reps in practice. Cade’s a gamer. He doesn’t — the moment’s not too big for him.”
As one might expect, Mays was far from perfect. He had a couple errant snaps, including a high one that sailed through Fromm’s hands and resulted in a loss of 12 when the Bulldogs were in the red zone. However, for the most part, he held his own.
But Mays wasn’t the only alternate center used on the night. He got “rolled up on” in a pile on the second play of the fourth quarter, and sophomore Jamaree Salyer entered for his first game action at center.
Quarterback Jake Fromm said it’s been since fall camp since he took a snap from Salyer, and then there was the added curveball of the third center being left-handed to make things a little more interesting. But the Bulldogs were able to get on the same page and run out the rest of the game without major incident.
That fact speaks to the Bulldogs’ depth, of being able to trot out a pair of five-star prospects after an injury and keep things rolling relatively smoothly. That depth begins with Mays, who performed admirably in a new role just like his teammates are accustomed to seeing.
“It’s a little bit of musical chairs with him sometimes, but I think he takes on that role,” Fromm said. “He kind of puts it on his back and says, ‘Hey, I want to go out and do anything I can for this football team.’”