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USU football: running back Devante Mays’ senior season has been injury riddled

Utah State running back Devante Mays carries the ball against the USC Trojans during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Utah State running back Devante Mays carries the ball against the USC Trojans during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Devante Mays couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin his senior season.

The 5-foot-11, 230-pound running back from Livingston, Texas, rushed for a career-high 208 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries as Utah State cruised to a 45-6 victory over Weber State on Sept. 1, at Maverik Stadium.

“The offensive line did a good job making holes for the running backs,” Mays said. “I thought the running backs did a good job of running the ball and finding creases. Overall, we did a really good job as a team and got a great win.”

With his 208 yards rushing against Weber State, Mays went over the 1,000-yard plateau for his career at Utah State, becoming the 28th different Aggie to accomplish that feat.

“He ran behind his pads really well (against Weber State),” fourth-year head coach Matt Wells said. “He broke some big runs. It’s a reflection of what he did all summer and what I saw him do through August. He just played like he practiced.”

Mays’ performance against the in-state Wildcats even drew praise from the opposing side.

“Devante Mays was tougher than nails and he’s hard to tackle,” said third-year Weber State head coach Jay Hill. “We knew it and we did a poor job preparing for him. I did a poor job putting us in the right place to make plays and quite frankly, we did a poor job tackling.”

His three touchdown runs against the Wildcats came on his first seven carries of the game and were from 18, 18 and a career-long 66 yards out, respectively. He gained 79 yards in each of the first two quarters and 50 yards in the third before enjoying the game from the sidelines in the fourth.

“Devante brings a lot to the table,” junior quarterback Kent Myers said. “His actions speak a lot as in clutch situations I know he knows his assignment by his preparation and I also know he will make a play for us. He means a lot to our offense, especially in the run game. He makes my job easier when we are able to run the ball well with explosives, and also with opening up the play action and deep passes.”

Unfortunately for Mays and the Aggies, the second week of the season didn’t have the same flavor. Not only did Utah State lose its first game of the season at Southern California, but the Aggies also lost Mays when he was injured in the third quarter against the Trojans.

Mays limped off the field after carrying the ball eight times for 24 yards. He did not play the following week against Arkansas State but returned for the Air Force game on Sept. 24.

The first time Mays touched the ball against the Falcons late in the first quarter, he picked up two yards. However, he did not get up. Utah State’s training staff eventually had to help him off the field while not putting any weight on his right leg.

“It’s hard for me, as a coach, to see any player go down with an injury,” Wells said. “I know the dedication and the time those kids have put in, in the offseason. It doesn’t matter who it is, my heart breaks for a kid when he gets injured.”

Mays has played sparingly since the Air Force game.

“He is a key member of the offense in order to get the running game going,” senior center Austin Stephens said. “Establishing a running game is one of the most important parts of the game.”

Myers added they've missed his presence on the field.

“We have a lot of good running backs, but we have missed him a lot on offense, especially in the red zone," he said. "He is a big-bodied running back hitting the holes hard and his ability to score in the open field.”

Mays, who transferred to Utah State from Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, has played in 19 career games for the Aggies and rushed for 1,225 yards and 12 touchdowns on 202 carries (6.1 ypc).

“He’s a running back that makes the offensive line’s job easier,” Stephens said. “He believes in the offensive line and believes that we will get our job done. He can trust us and therefore we can trust him.”

For fellow running back Justen Hervey, a sophomore that has also appeared in 19 games for the Aggies, loves having Mays as a teammate.

“He’s a hard worker, he never complains and he does what he needs to do to get the job done,” Hervey said. “He’s always positive and loves to work out wherever he is, even if we go to the hotel before the game he works out.”

Mays and the rest of the Aggies worked extremely hard in the weight room this past summer, and the results were easily seen as assistant strength and conditioning coach Joey Bergles posted a video on social media of Mays bench pressing a whopping 420 pounds.

“Strength is his strength,” Hervey said with a laugh. “He’s strong as an ox and he can power his way through holes and carry people for extra yards. Devante is phenomenal.”

As serious as Mays is on the field, he has a lighter side off of it.

“He has a great sense of humor and is a guy you can always joke around with,” Stephens said.

Hervey agreed.

“He’s a jokester off the field and he’s a good friend,” Hervey said. “On the field, he takes his work serious and doesn’t talk a lot.”

Mays’ career 6.1 yards per carry average ranks seventh all-time in school history. Michael Smith (2009-11) is the school record holder at 7.1 ypc. Prior to the USC game, Mays had rushed for 519 yards (129.8 ypg) and five touchdowns on 71 carries in his previous four outings.

“His biggest attribute is his determination,” Myers said. “He’s a perfectionist and will work his hardest to get the job done. My favorite thing about Devante is his hard work and leadership on offense.”

After a slow start to his Utah State career – he only gained 167 yards on 26 carries through his first four games as a junior – Mays burst onto the scene in the fifth game of the 2015 season as he ran for 92 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries in a dominating 56-14 victory at Fresno State.

Mays finished the season with 966 yards and nine touchdowns on 165 carries (5.9 ypc).

Prior to transferring to Utah State, Mays earned Southwest Junior College Football Conference honorable mention honors as a sophomore at Blinn College after rushing for 557 yards and three touchdowns on 57 carries in just six games. He recorded four 100-yard rushing outings, including a season-best 123 yards on just seven carries against Kilgore College.

Mays spent his freshman season at Tyler (Texas) Junior College and scored on a 15-yard touchdown run for the only score of his career with the Apaches.

The son of Mark and Elwanda Mays earned Texas Class 4A District 20 first-team honors at running back as a senior at Livingston High School as he helped the Lions to a 7-3 record and an appearance in the 4A Region III playoffs. Mays rushed for 600 yards and eight touchdowns on 58 carries that year.

He earned Class 4A District 20 first-team honors during his junior season, as well, as he rushed for 1,023 yards and 19 touchdowns on 169 carries, to go along with 90 yards receiving on 11 catches. Mays also competed in power-lifting and track and field at Livingston HS.

Mays is majoring in interdisciplinary studies at Utah State and is on track to graduate this December.