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Originally published Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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O'Dea grad Taylor Mays has NFL in his sights

USC safety Taylor Mays was named to the Walter Camp All-American team last week, which is good news for Mays but not necessarily great for...

Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES — USC safety Taylor Mays was named to the Walter Camp All-American team last week, which is good news for Mays but not necessarily great for the Trojans.

As Mays concludes his junior year, there is less for him to accomplish, and he appears headed toward an early entry in the NFL draft.

"If I'm up there [in the top 15], I think even [Trojans coach Pete Carroll] will tell me to leave," said Mays, who was named a first-team AP All-American on Tuesday.

Mays admitted he frequently imagines playing in the NFL next season.

"Yeah, I think about that," Mays said. "It might get to me, but I need to stay focused. If I let it get to my head, it could mess me up and be a negative. But I'm a positive person."

He even talks about the possibility that he played his last game at the Coliseum two weeks ago against Notre Dame.

"If that ended being up my last game, it was special," he said.

But maybe Mays, who played at Seattle's O'Dea High School, is only guilty of being a realist. He is 6 feet 3 and 235 pounds, and for the past two years ran the fastest time at USC in the 40-yard dash. He is expected to blow NFL teams away with his physical skills when he chooses to perform tests for them.

About the only negative is that he might scare teams because of his freakish combination of size and athleticism.

"Guys will be concerned about his size and if he can make plays at that size," Carroll said. "I think the average safety is 210 pounds. Will he be able to tackle a fast, nifty receiver or running back?

The less-discussed knock on Mays is that he did not make a lot of plays at USC, but that was often attributed to his role in Carroll's defense, which required him to play more like a center fielder and prevent deep passes.

"How many times have teams gone deep on us?" Carroll said. "He's done exactly what we wanted. There's a lot that goes on in his position that you don't see that he deserves credit for.


"If you think about the last two seasons or the last three seasons, how many times somebody's taken the ball, thrown it over our heads down the middle of the field, you can't remember because it hasn't happened."

Mays said he doesn't care if fans fail to realize his responsibility in the Trojans' defense sometimes decreases the opportunity for highlight plays.

"I would be worried about criticism of the coaches," he said. "I'm not worried about other people. They don't know what they are talking about."

That doesn't mean he always feels satisfied after a game. When the Trojans routed the Irish, Mays was upset because he anticipated some deep passes only to have Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen throw short.

Even with gun-shy offenses, Mays is one of the Trojans' top playmakers. He made 49 tackles and broke up eight passes during the regular season. One of the best games of his career came against California, when he broke up four passes.

"The last three or four games have been among his best," Carroll said. "He's the biggest, strongest, fastest guy that you're going to find. His numbers are enormous. That's nice to have that. But what makes him who he is, he's really a diligent competitor, man."

What makes Mays unique is that for a three-time All-American, he keeps a relatively low profile. He loves to make jokes and laugh but he is not enamored with Hollywood like former Trojans Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.

"He's not quiet but he's not crazy," USC wide receiver Jordan Cameron said. "Taylor's humble for all the hype he gets. He doesn't boast or anything. If we go out, we might go to the Cheesecake Factory. We don't party."

Cameron said Mays is a reliable friend to him and his sister, USC basketball player Brynn Cameron, and even helped assist with her son Cole.

"He's always been there for us," Jordan Cameron said. "He comes to the apartment and picks me up if I need a ride. He's helped watch Cole."

Mays, whose father is former NFL player Stafford Mays, said his quiet social life is a reflection of his desire to make it in the NFL.

"I don't want to mess up that chance to make it and be the best I can be," he said. "I don't want to do anything to disrupt any progress."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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