Mays becomes special teams terror

Jermaine Mays has blocked three punts this season and has returned two for scores

Brian Hall

Following Minnesota’s football practice Wednesday, senior Jermaine Mays strolled through the halls of the Gibson-Nagurski football complex wearing an Ohio State football helmet.

Mays was no longer in pads. He wasn’t acting as a member of the scout team. He was just being himself.

A few seconds later, Mays walked over to the Gophers equipment room and joined quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq in singing a duet. Just another example of why Mays is the self-described team jokester.

“I am the type of guy that I will mess with everybody,” Mays said. “It’s like a routine. I work my way from the equipment guys to the trainers and everybody else. And when someone sees the lights cut out, they know it’s me.”

As fellow receiver Antoine Burns explains, Mays is just plain “goofy” and one reason is his hometown.

“He is a Miami guy, and he has his own language,” said Burns, who is from Milwaukee. “You can’t really understand what he is saying. We ask for an interpreter sometimes and for those who aren’t used to him, we have to tell them what he is saying.”

While Mays has entertained teammates and coaches off the field, he has been a terror on the field this season.

The senior has contributed three blocked punts, each coming in consecutive weeks, and has returned two of them for touchdowns.

“Without Jermaine we don’t put up as many points as we have this year and a lot of games would be a lot closer,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “He has been a key factor. He might, right now to me, be the most valuable player on this team.”

Mays was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his effort against Northwestern with a blocked punt and touchdown. During his Minnesota career, Mays has four blocked punts to his credit.

His first block came in his junior campaign at Ohio State on Oct. 14, 2000. Mays’ block in the first quarter led to a Gophers’ touchdown and helped in the 29-17 upset victory.

Minnesota’s new special teams ace will get an opportunity to repeat history this Saturday when the Gophers meet up with the No. 6 Buckeyes.

The road back to Columbus has been a long one for Mays. He was forced to sit out last year after an NCAA Clearinghouse mix-up.

He played four games during his freshman season after the NCAA said he was eligible. But later the NCAA declared him ineligible and told Mays he must sit out one season for his participation in the four contests.

In 2000, Mays was sixth in the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 23.7-yard average, including a school record-tying 100-yard return for a touchdown.

He also played in 12 games, starting six, and totaled 21 receptions for 321 yards. His output was good for third on the team in all-purpose yards.

Finally cleared to play after sitting out all of 2001, Mays entered this season as a starting wide receiver before pulling his hamstring during two-a-days practice in August.

“It’s been frustrating for everybody waiting to get him back,” coach Glen Mason said. “I don’t know how many setbacks a guy can endure. He is getting a little better every day. Hopefully it will be a good November for him.”

The hamstring injury has limited Mays’ appearances at wide receiver. He’s posted only one catch for nine yards this season. But, finally healthy, Mays figures to be more involved in the offense and on kick returns.

“The hamstring is ready to go,” Mays said. “I am looking forward to getting some more work, being able to help the offense as much as I can and continue to perform on special teams.”

No matter how Mays acts, what he says or how he says it, he is ready to let his performance speak for itself.


Brian Hall covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]