Nate Mays’ Twitter account name is “D-1.”
The moniker is appropriate, since “D-1” is probably where the Dalton High School football player is headed.
The Catamounts’ newest outside linebacker has a lot of eyes watching him and a lot of ears wondering where he’s headed. With Division I offers already coming his way and his summer schedule full, Mays is about to make one of the most important decisions a 17-year-old can make.
“It’s not really overwhelming,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting.”
If you only follow Dalton football on Friday nights in the fall, you may not even know who Nate Mays is. He hasn’t played a single snap for Dalton, and yet he’s possibly the school’s next great player.
A starter at Gordon Central High School in Calhoun the past two seasons, the rising senior helped his former school to an 8-3 record and a Class 3A state playoff appearance in 2012. Mays had 59 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a spot on the Rome News-Tribune’s All-Area second team. Colleges started taking notice.
The team finished 2013 with a new coach — Chad Fisher resigned after the 2012 season, and David Humphreys took over — and without a victory. Mays finished with 93 tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown. He made the Calhoun Times’ All-County first team and the Rome News-Tribune’s All-Area first team.
Then he came to Dalton, and his new teammates and fans got the first up-close football impressions during spring practice.
“My first reaction was the first time we lined up for scrimmage and seeing the size and stature and being, ‘Oh my goodness, this kid is a freak. We’re so lucky to have him,’” said Payton Veraldi, a returning starter at quarterback. “The very first play, he came off the edge and I forget who it was but he was absolutely demolished.”
Mays said he and his family made a “bona fide move” — the Georgia High School Association exception allowing transfers to play for their new school without sitting out one year — into the Dalton city limits and transferred to the high school between the fall and spring semesters of this past school year.
“I was looking for a better opportunity,” Mays said. “Dalton was a good choice. I thought I was working hard. When I came to Dalton, I realized I wasn’t working as hard as I needed to be.”
And the Catamounts now have a new star — a 6-foot, 3-inch, 217-pound physical force with a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash — at outside linebacker.
“It’s amazing to watch him work out,” said Dalton coach Matt Land, who noted Mays can squat nearly 600 pounds. “He has an explosiveness that’s pretty rare. When he came to us, he was really raw. One of the things we’ve helped him understand is the Dalton system, where it’s just doing his job. He comes from a system where he did everything.
“I think the thing I recognized off the bat is he’s so explosive that we had to slow him down a bit.”
Other teams like that explosiveness and strength, too. They like it so much they want Mays committing — now.
Wake Forest and Cincinnati, two BCS-level Division I schools, have offered scholarships, Mays said. They are the two most prestigious offers for a Dalton player since offensive lineman Watts Dantzler signed with the University of Georgia following the 2010 season.
Mays’ decision can’t be official until next February, when the annual signing day is, but he can make a verbal commitment to secure a scholarship at any time.
In fact, Mays said it’d be wise to do that — and soon.
“I kind of have no choice if I want to have a promised spot,” he said. “Coaches tell me that while I’m out here shopping for colleges, they’re shopping for players. So I need my decision pretty soon in order to not have my spot close up.
“They don’t want to keep playing the chasing game and end up not having me sign with them.”