Packers 2017 Draft: Interview with Utah State RB Devante Mays

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft could very well go down as the year of the running back, but not because of the premiere talent that will come off the board early in the form of Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey or even someone like Alvin Kamara. Instead, it’s the other lesser-known ball carriers that will make the next few days a virtual trip to the candy store for many of the needy organizations with holes to fill in their respective backfields.

Among the treats on hand are several running backs of all shapes, sizes and skill levels that will continue to be there for the taking even following the announcement of this year’s Mr. Irrelevant at the end of the 7th round.

Utah State’s Devante Mays is one of those borderline prospects that is teetering the line between landing somewhere late in the 6th or 7th rounds and signing on as a priority free agent.

The stocky 230-pound back’s highlight package is comparable to that of most of his draft-eligible peers when you factor in the brute force he often exhibited in obliterating would-be tacklers by driving his shoulder into them and refusing to go down.

Mays, however, is more than just a compact package of  booming thunder with his awareness to attack open lanes and outrun people with the type of burst that one would hardly expect from a man both as thick and wide as the Texas-born athlete.

The soon-to-be-rookie has made a career of catching observers off-guard due to an abject lack of recognition he’s encountered every step of the way.

Football programs in his native Lone Star State failed to acknowledge Mays’ exploits at Livingston High School, which included a 1,023-yard rushing campaign and 19 touchdowns in his junior year.

The avid power lifter and track-and-field athlete wasn’t only lightly recruited, he was curiously shunned and was forced to make do by going the community college route in Tyler TX. as a freshman followed by transferring to Blinn Junior College the next year.

While he hardly saw much action at Tyler Community College, Mays made up for lost time in his second stop by producing four consecutive 100-yard performances as a sophomore.

Though the in-state universities didn’t step forward despite attempts made to contact the institutions, Utah State would finally emerge as the one school that offered Mays his long-overdue opportunity to headline the running attack of a program worthy of his physical toolset.

No. 32 was an instant hit in 2015 by posting 966 yards on 165 carries and 9 touchdowns despite only starting six of the 15 games he played in.

It would often take a small army of defenders to bring Mays down, as the junior flashed a spectacular running style that saw him punish the opposition, as well as turn on the jets when he opted to break plays to the outside.

He would continue his mastery of ill-equipped defenses as a senior by tearing up Weber State in a signature Week-1 outing that produced 208 yards on the ground and three trips into the opponent’s end zone.

One moment that stood out among his many brilliant forays into the enemy’s second and third levels was a 66-yard touchdown run in which Mays broke a tackle and found himself with one man to beat.

Instead of running through the smaller safety, though, the former Aggie used his quickness and lateral agility to make the defensive back miss on his way to hitting pay dirt.

His career-best offering, though, would end up being the last time he would reach triple-digit yardage totals in a navy and silver uniform, as he sprained both a knee ligament and foot on the same leg in Week 2.

Mays went into the offseason with zero buzz, but quickly went to work by staying on campus to get himself in top shape for the one chance he had to get any kind of attention: his team pro day.

Many of the scouts in attendance were aghast at the Mountain West Conference product, who ran official 40 times of 4.44 and 4.51 along with elevating 40.5 inches in the vertical and registering a distance of 10’9” in the broad jump.

While Mays is far from a household name and still gets zero consideration from the mainstream media, NFL decision makers are now well aware of the back’s tantalizing potential.

The former junior college transfer’s combination of size, burst and elusiveness are eerily reminiscent of former pro Michael Turner, who was a few pounds heavier in his heyday, but featured a similar build and movement skills.

The one part of thumper’s game that remains an unknown is his receiving prowess. During his time in Logan, Mays caught all of two balls in two years.

To his credit, though, this rising sleeper has shown the tendency to catch the ball cleanly in his hands during warm-up sessions before games and in practice.

Regardless of whether Mays gets drafted, he no longer runs the risk of getting lost in the shuffle, as he’s reportedly visited with three NFL organizations and held private workouts for two others.

The one-time hidden gem recently touched base with Lombardi Ave to share his improbable story and future plans with the start of the draft now only hours away.

Mays is a serious and determined individual that spends most of his time focused on taking care of his body to put himself in the best position possible to make a roster.

Here is the aspiring pro running back in his own words

Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Q: You grew up in a big family of 10 children. Were you competing with your brothers in the backyard a lot during your formative years? How did you first get exposed to football?

A: Yeah, I have a pretty big family, but, you know, that’s not really how I got started. There were some Pop Warner leagues that my grandmother wanted me to get into to try to help give me something to do and just pretty much stay out of trouble. By the time I was growing up, my brothers and sisters had already moved out. It was just pretty much me and my older brother, so there really wasn’t much going on with me having to compete with them.

Q: So, you were the youngest sibling?

A: No, I have two younger brothers, but I didn’t grow up with them…just one of my older brothers. But he wasn’t actually into sports. I would just play with my friends and stuff. There was a lot of competing going on with me and my friends.

Q: In high school, you were a competitive power lifter along with running track. How good were you at both?

A: I was pretty good at both. Those were things I would do because I thought they would help me out when football came back around. So, I liked to run track to help me with my speed and I also ran some sprints. Then I was into power lifting just to stay strong.

Q: Powerlifting consists of maxing out on three different lifts. How much can you bench, squat and deadlift?

A: I can bench press 425 pounds. My strongest squat in high school was 530. I could probably do a lot more now. But my deadlift wasn’t too good. I think I did 515. But I was in the regional quarterfinals though. Guys that are pretty strong make the regionals and then the top two guys in the regionals end up going to state.

Q: How did you wind up at Tyler Community College as a freshman and then Blinn Junior College a year later?

A: I had zero Division I offers and I had one junior college offer from Tyler Community College. So, I went there, but I didn’t play much. I played pretty much all special teams. I never saw any action at running back. I then went to a combine and did really well and ended up walking on and then earning a scholarship at Blinn Junior College.

Q: Were you heavily recruited by any of the local Texas schools as a JUCO transfer after your sophomore year? How did you decide to pack your bags for Utah State?

A: Actually, I was not. I was not really recruited by any Texas schools. One of my coaches called every school in Texas: Baylor, Texas Tech, UT…all of those guys. I really don’t know what happened there, but I ended up getting an offer from Utah State. I just pretty much went there because I felt it was right. You know, the coaches were reaching out to me a lot and I felt it was right, so I just went there.

Q: How was that jump from junior college to the Mountain West Conference?

A: It wasn’t too much of a jump. I mean, I felt I could compete with the best. I don’t think the competition was any different really. I guess it was a huge jump moving from Texas to Utah and dealing with the climate change, but that was really about it.

Q: Describe your running style. What are your distinguishing characteristics?

A: I think I’m more of a physical back. I really don’t shy away from contact, but I also think I have enough speed to get to the outside if I have to. I take pride in being a physical runner.

Q: I saw you being used on some option-pitch plays at Utah State. What type of offense did you play in?

A: Primarily it was a pro-style offense. We ran the ball a lot.  

Q: You are very physical. Someone like you, once you see that hole, what’s going through your mind once you get past that first wave of defenders and it’s just you and safety one-on-one?

A: I soon as I see that hole, I’m going to get through it as fast as I can. If it’s just me and the safety, I can make him miss, but most of the time, I’ll just try to run him over. But I think that’s something that I kind of need to do a better job at in learning how to avoid a guy instead of running him over most of the time. It can be easier to make him miss and score a touchdown. That’s something I’ve been thinking about and trying to get better at.

Q: Well, the fact is that you actually have some speed. Your burst gives you options.

A: Exactly.

Q: What is the most underrated part of your game?

A: I would have to say the passing game. I mean, I’ve been working on it a lot, but honestly, my hands are not that bad. I can catch the ball well and I can block well being a big guy. Blocking a guy who’s 250 pounds isn’t going to be hard for me because I’m already 230. So, rather than just take someone that’s 190 to try to block a linebacker, it’s not hard for me. The things that are overlooked are that I can catch the ball well and block well, but that wasn’t really on display at Utah State. Some people that don’t know, I think, are going to be surprised when they actually see that.

Q: What’s your offseason been like? There’s not a lot information about you out there in general or even about where you’ve trained. How have you improved since the end of the season?

A: So, I’ve just stayed in Utah and trained. I trained with my normal strength and conditioning coaches. I just thought that would be the best place for me since they know me and what I need to improve on. They know what needs to be done. They’ve been there before with other guys on the team. Marwin Evans, for example, trained there last year. So, I knew they were good. I think they did a really good job of working with me and getting me ready. I went through my rehab (from 2016 knee and ankle injuries) in the training room to get ready. I think, since then, I’ve gotten a lot better, quicker and faster and every day I work on catching the ball and route running. I think I’m a lot better at that than last season.

Q: Your pro day was just flat-out phenomenal (see intro for official results). You must have caused some jaws to drop among the scouts and other NFL personnel on hand. What was their reaction?

A: There were a number of scouts there that after I ran, they kind of looked at their stopwatches and were like, Did this guy just really run that? I think from watching film, you probably can’t really tell that I can run in the low 4.4s or mid 4.4s, but the game isn’t really played in a straight line. I’m pretty fast, you can say, for a guy my size. And so, even after it was over, some people approached me and said, Whoa, I didn’t know you could move like that or jump that high.

Q: Do you see it as an advantage that you didn’t get a lot of carries as a college athlete?

A: I mean, I really do see that as an advantage. You know, right now people probably don’t see it that way because I really didn’t get to display everything I can do. These guys like Leonard Fournette and all those guys average 20 or 30 carries a game and in an entire season, they have 200 or 300 carries; whereas I haven’t had that many carries in the last two years (202). In the long run, that’ll help me because those guys they’ll have all that mileage on them. They’ve been banged up and beat up so much. I definitely see that as an advantage.

Q: Yeah, those injuries as a senior probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Let’s talk about your recent visit with the Packers. Very generally, without getting into specifics, what was your impression of the organization and the individuals that you met with?

A: Man, I loved it. I think Green Bay is top of the line. I really like learning the history and all of that. The relationship and the connection between the players and all of the fans in Green Bay, I think, is very special. The facility was great. It’s as good as any place that I had been to and any place that I saw. I really liked the player-fan connection. I thought it was really special. Overall, I liked my visit to Green Bay. I thought it was amazing.

Q: What makes you believe that you will ultimately be a success in the NFL?

A: I honestly think I will be a success story in the NFL because of my hard work and my dedication. People that know me personally know that I’m strictly football. I don’t go out or party. I don’t drink or do anything that I feel is going to harm my body. I spend a lot of time watching film or stretching or doing stuff on my own time trying to get better.

And that’s another thing I liked about Green Bay is because there’s not too much going on and it’s just strictly football…that’s just what I really like. Compared to other guys that go out, drink or party, I just make sure I put a lot of time in being ready.

Q: Devante, thanks for the great interview so far. We’re going to have some fun with a few non-football questions before we wrap things up. First off, what is your favorite meal? I would think a power lifter like you would be eating a ton of high-protein foods.

A: Yeah, I do eat a lot of protein. Lately, I’ve been trying to get down in weight and get leaned out. I would like to be around the 225 area because I feel that I’ll be able to move better. Lately, I’ve been eating a lot of green spinach and broccoli and stuff; a little of bit of rice and some grilled chicken or tilapia…or salmon.

Q: What is your favorite series or reality show?

A: Workaholics. It’s kind of goofy. It’s a comedy show.

Q: Who is your favorite music artist?

A: Eric Church

Q: Who is your favorite non-football athlete?

A: LeBron James

Q: What is your favorite activity when you’re not in football mode?

A: I don’t know if working out counts, but I know it’s football-related. If it’s not anything active, I would say just watching Workaholics or reading.

Q: Do you have an ideal vacation spot? It could be a place you may or may not have been to before.

A: Actually, there are a few places that I kind of want to go to. I want to visit Mexico, Hawaii and I’ve never been to Disneyland.

Q: Can you give me a few words that best describe you, Devante Mays, as an individual, a player and as a teammate?

A: Man of God, hard worker and happy person.

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