- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Chris Mayes finally thinks of himself as a football player. That wasn’t always the case for the defensive lineman.
“Over the years, it took me a little while to get used to it,” Mayes admitted. “I got more comfortable with it.”
It wasn’t until Mayes’ junior year at Griffin (Ga.) Spalding High School that, influenced by friends and a track coach, that he decided to give football a try. At 6-foot-4 and approximately 280 pounds, he certainly looked like a football player while running up and down the basketball court. But he’s the first to admit that he lacked even the most basic knowledge concerning the gridiron.
That’s why his last two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College -- where he went after initially signing with Georgia in 2011 and failing to qualify -- have been especially beneficial.
“I think it was like a blessing because when I first started, I couldn’t get in a stance,” Mayes recalled. “I stood up and tried to put my hand on the ground. I didn’t have any clue about football, but I came a long way, learned the hand techniques, know the gaps, know my role, so I came a long way on that part.”
He was most certainly a project when he first took up the sport, as former Spalding coach Clint Ashmore can attest. Mayes’ sheer athleticism -- particularly for such a big player -- impressed the coach immediately, but as a football newcomer, Mayes had no clue about the techniques and strategies that could make him a dominant performer.
He’d come out of his stance too high, occasionally shy away from contact, look for the ball instead of minding his gap responsibilities -- all products of a simple lack of football experience rather than a lack of discipline.
Entering just his fourth competitive season in football, Mayes believes he is well on the way to figuring it all out.
“In high school, I played high, but I still overpowered most of the guys,” Mayes said. “But I played 370-pound guys, all-Americans, in junior college and playing high doesn’t work for them. You can’t move them. You can’t budge them. But once you get low and drive your feet and just keep your arm locked out, you can win every time.”
And now that Mayes is working toward putting his physical capabilities to use in smarter fashion, Ashmore believes Mayes can become an exceptional college player.
“You’d have to think he may be one of the most athletic nose guards maybe in the country when it’s all said and done,” Ashmore said.
The best news of all for Mayes is that he was able to take the time at Mississippi Gulf Coast to develop -- or as Ashmore put it, to “sharpen his football tools” -- and yet he still has three years of college eligibility remaining thanks to a redshirt season last fall.
He’s still a relative baby in the sport of football, and Mayes understands that as much as anyone. But now 6-4 and 340 pounds, he also has the combination of size, athletic ability and an ever-expanding football vocabulary that make him an intriguing prospect.
“I’m always developing,” Mayes said. “You can never stop developing fully. I feel like you only get better each year.”
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