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Heupel praises toughness of Cooper Mays after gutty performance against Florida

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Perhaps lost in the loss to the Florida Gators over the weekend was the performance of center Cooper Mays, who gutted out a full game on a bad ankle. Mays injured the ankle in week one against Bowling Green, which caused him to miss the next two against Pittsburgh and Tennessee Tech.

Mays returned to the lineup against Florida — an expected big boost for the offensive line in a hostile environment. He clearly wasn’t 100 percent, as the television cameras caught from time to time, but he did everything he could to stay on the field with his teammates on Saturday night.

That effort didn’t go unnoticed by his head coach.

“Tough, competitive, cares — cares about playing at a really high level,” Josh Heupel said on Monday. “Cares about the Power T. Cares about his teammates. Wants to be in there. He’s a warrior. As the game went on, you watch the film, you can tell that things started to bother him more as the game wore on. He didn’t want to come out. He competed extremely hard.”

Mays is going through his first season as a starter at Tennessee. He won the starting job at center, replacing veteran Brandon Kennedy from last year’s team. The former four-star recruit is also enjoying a unique opportunity, perhaps playing his only season together with his brother Cade, who is starting at right tackle in his senior year.

Jerome Carvin had been playing in his place, moving over from his traditional guard spot. With Cooper back in the lineup, Carvin was able to go back to that guard position, allowing Tennessee to have its best five on the field. Unfortunately for Mays, he wasn’t quite at 100 percent, and certainly doesn’t seem to be now.

We’ll monitor his status throughout the week, as Tennessee preps for a trip to Missouri, where the Volunteers will face the Tigers’ 115th ranked defense.