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COREY MAYS: Finally his turn

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, November 18, 2005

Corey Mays has spent five years at Notre Dame – four of them waiting. But his time finally came this year, and the senior linebacker took advantage of it.

“It’s been a great experience,” Mays said of this year, his fifth at Notre Dame. “We’re really just trying to finish it all out on a great note.”

But Mays hasn’t always been the well-known energetic, fan-favorite linebacker for the Irish – he had to wait his turn.

From the South Side to South Bend

Mays hails from Morgan Park High School, a Chicago public school on the city’s south side. He is the first player from the public league to come to Notre Dame since Chris Zorich in 1988. And next year, Demetrius Jones, a senior at Morgan Park, is expected to suit up for the Irish as well. Jones, a quarterback, verbally committed to the Irish this fall.

In the end, Mays said he chose Notre Dame for life after football.

“Really at the end of the day, it felt like the right fit for me,” he said. “When you’re being recruited, every school says the same thing, but I felt like it was the best chance for me after school.”

And once he got to Notre Dame, Mays said the adjustment from high school to college was not just related to football. Chicago Public Schools are about 91 percent minority and nine percent Caucasian, compared to Notre Dame which is about 20 percent minority and 80 percent Caucasian.

“It’s about the make-up of campus that’s really different from the South Side of Chicago,” Mays said. “Eventually you adjust, that’s a part of life.”

“I felt like it was just as difficult as any other freshman in the country. I’m able to adapt to many situations.”

It is this approach to change that has helped Mays maintain a positive attitude through his four years, despite not getting very much playing time at linebacker.

“If you look at Corey’s situation, it’s really unique because he didn’t get a lot of playing time for four years, and he never once complained,” linebacker and fellow fifth-year senior Brandon Hoyte said. “All he’s ever done is say, ‘Fine, I’ll work harder.'”

Waiting his turn

Mays sat out his freshman year, and the next three years saw him playing mostly special teams. Mays played behind the likes of Courtney Watson (now with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints), Derek Curry and Mike Goolsby.

And although Mays admits it was hard to wait at times, he knew that he would get his chance at some point, as long as he kept working hard.

“It was hard to be patient at times, because you feel like you should be out there because you’ve put in the work and you feel like you may not be getting your fair share,” Mays said. “You have to accept some things. That’s a part of life. You just have to continue to work hard because you never know what’s going to happen, or who is going to notice you, or who’s going to say what to you.”

And this year, Mays has stepped up in his starting role. He has 52 tackles on the year, two sacks and has recovered three fumbles, while forcing two.

“You got a guy like Corey Mays, who didn’t get a lot of playing time throughout his years,” Hoyte said. “But this year, he has been unbelievable and he deserves it more than anybody else.”

Hoyte’s not the only one who has admired the way Mays has waited his turn.

“Corey’s been very talented since he came here,” defensive lineman Brian Beidatsch, who is also Mays’ roommate said. “And he got stuck in the position where there were great players in front of him. So he’s kind of had to wait his turn and I respect it. He never complained, just worked hard, made an impact on special teams and did what he could do filling for those guys. So this year’s his to shine. He’s learned a lot from those guys and through his hard work, he’s become a great linebacker … and a great leader.”

Mays also brings an unprecedented energy to the Irish on and off the field, something he takes pride in.

“Every time I’ve stepped on the field for a game or practice, it’s about energy,” Mays said. “Because you never know when the last play will be your last, so enjoy everything you have.”

And his teammates like the energy he brings, including his distinct hands on-top of his dreadlocks-filled head sign that he started at the USC pep rally when he was one of the speakers.

“I’m always happy to be around Corey, no matter what,” sophomore linebacker Maurice Crum said. “He always has energy for the guys around him, and that’s something that on the field, everybody can feed off of. I enjoy playing with him.”

Crum, also a first-year starter, said Mays’ energy never stops.

“Corey’s like that all the time,” Crum said. “Weight room, 8:00 in the morning, 6:00 in the morning, Corey’s like that 24-7. He’s just a happy-go-lucky type of guy.”

Irish head coach Charlie Weis was surprised when Mays first stepped on the field, as his initial impressions were that Mays was a quiet, hard-working guy.

“He really didn’t say too much, just went out there and worked his butt off all the time [in the weight room],” Weis said. “Then we got on the field, and I found out he’s a more vocal leader than I thought he would be.”

Not all about football

And as good as he is on the field, Mays tries to be just as good off of it. When he got to Notre Dame, he founded a non-profit organization, Positive Concepts, designed to help underprivileged children. Mays is the CEO of the organization, which he formed when he arrived at Notre Dame.

“I was doing different volunteer activities, and I finally realized I wanted to do something with my name,” he said. “It really just mentors children and at-risk teens all over, but the best work we can do with it is with at-risk teens.”

Mays said one of the goals of his program is to help provide teens both in his hometown and in South Bend with positive role models. He brings his teammates from Notre Dame, teammates from high school, and even his parents to help mentor.

“Everyone needs a role model,” Mays said. “It’s really great when someone can have someone to look up to and follow in their footsteps.”

Weis said he found out about Mays’s mentoring when one of the groups he visited sent Weis a thank-you card and a picture, thanking him for Mays’s efforts.

“He obviously is a very well-respected person, and I think it’s great to have a guy from Morgan Park here, a Chicago kid, that is such a good role model,” Weis said.

And Mays, who graduated in May with a degree in sociology and psychology said sometimes it gets difficult to balance school, football and Positive Concepts.

“It [isn’t] easy,” he said, “but Notre Dame has really prepared me to multi-task and be responsible and balance a bunch of things.”

One last time

Saturday will be the last time Mays plays at Notre Dame Stadium, but according to Weis, he may be able to play in the NFL next year, especially because of his three years of experience on special teams.

“He’ll have an opportunity at the next level,” Weis said.As a backup linebacker in the NFL, the one thing you need to be able to do is you need to play some special teams. He already can play from tackle-to-tackle with the big boys. Then it’s going to be a question of what else can you do because the NFL is all about versatility and creating a niche for yourself..”

But for now, Mays is focused on closing out his five years at Notre Dame, time that he thinks has flown by.

“It goes fast,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like it your freshman year, but it goes fast.”

And Mays said he doesn’t know what the feeling will be like when he plays his last game at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I have no idea really,” he said. “I just have to see when I get there. I can’t even imagine what it will feel like.”

But one thing is for sure – he will bring the energy.