Seattle’s Taylor Mays doesn’t mind being the old man now at the University of Southern California. He’s a wise man, too – and should leave college football in the rarest of standing as a four-time All-American. Yet, for all he has accomplished by winning three Rose Bowls, and being a projected lock as a top-10 selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, the free safety from O’Dea High isn’t seeing his name blazing in the neon lights of Los Angeles.
In fact, his exploits have taken a back seat to the sudden craze surrounding Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley, a true freshman. Mays’ star as a newcomer was bright, too, back in 2006.
Mays became a starter in his second game at USC, and he has done it 39 consecutive times since. But “(Barkley’s hype) is on a way bigger scale,” he admitted.
That is one reason why the two have become close friends. Wherever Barkley is going, Mays has already been there and seen it.
“We talk about the situation he’s in, and what’s going on,” Mays said. “He handles everything well. I let him do his own thing, but if he (needs it), I’ll tell him.”
Mays, Barkley and the No. 3-ranked Trojans pay a visit to the University of Washington on Saturday for a nationally televised showdown at Husky Stadium – new UW coach Steve Sarkisian’s first game against his old team.
For sheer volume, USC’s road game in Seattle won’t quite be like what the Trojans’ experienced Saturday at The Horseshoe facing Big Ten champion Ohio State, a game USC won, 18-15.
In Columbus, the stadium was sold out, and deafening. Partly because it was Barkley’s first start, USC endured its rough patches, and trailed the Buckeyes late in the game.
Before USC’s final drive, Mays said he whispered a message to Barkley: “Keep on fighting ... until we bust through.”
Barkley did, leading the Trojans to the game-winning touchdown in the nationally televised game.
“They know what I’m talking about,” Mays said. “Part of being old is having ... the experience of being on the football field.”
A case could be made, after USC’s 38-24 win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl in January that Mays had accomplished everything he can as a collegian.
Draft experts had Mays going in the middle of the first round of the NFL Draft. It would still be worth millions of dollars. The lure was there, because Mays applied as an underclassmen.
But he carefully evaluated the prospects with his coach, Pete Carroll. He consulted USC stars past (Ronnie Lott) and present (Mark Sanchez, who decided to turn pro). And he sat down and talked things out with his father, Stafford Mays, a former Lincoln High and UW defensive lineman who played in the NFL.
“You start hearing things, and read mock drafts. There was some interesting stuff out there. And he started thinking about it more,” said Stafford Mays, now an executive at Microsoft. “Of course there were a couple of sleepless nights, but Taylor, at the end, weighed the pros and cons.
“It was like him choosing USC (out of high school). I told him he had to feel comfortable with it since he was doing all the heavy lifting.”
Admitting it was “tough because the money is right there,” Taylor Mays shocked many when he withdrew his name from the NFL Draft list so he could return for his senior season at USC.
“I wasn’t surprised. We talked for a couple of years about that event coming up, and how he was approaching it,” Trojans coach Pete Carroll said. “He kind of looked at the thought of going (pro), it changed his outlook. He was really determined to come back and play, graduate and be on top of his class in this program. It’s different being a senior (at USC) than any other time.”
The risk in Mays’ decision, of course, is injury. He sprained his right knee against Ohio State but is expected to play against the Huskies on Saturday.
Coming home isn’t a motivating factor, he insists.
“I don’t really care about ... this whole Seattle thing. It’s not that big a deal,” Mays said. “I just want to play. I haven’t missed a game – at O’Dea or anything.
As for playing another season at USC, Mays’ said: “I feel there is some stuff I have to prove. I enjoy playing college football, and wanted to put an exclamation point on (my career).”
Huskies defensive tackle De’Shon Matthews (bruised knee) has been ruled out for the USC game, but defensive end Darrion Jones (knee, ankle) returned to practice for the first time since getting injured against LSU. Jones could play against USC. ... Starting guard Gregory Christine (fatigue) returned to practice after sitting out two days.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442