February 26, 2009

Mays thinking 'what if'

Reminders of what could've been can strike at any time.

USC safety Taylor Mays caught himself thinking about how life would've been different last week had he not put the NFL on hold, instead returning to USC for his senior season.

"I think about it all the time. I had a Spanish quiz the other day, and man, it was hard," Mays said. "I was just thinking how I'd rather be getting ready for the combine."

Instead of running the 40-yard dash in front of NFL executives, coaches and scouts, Mays has been hitting the books and the field.

And though his mind wanders, he's cool with it.

"I don't regret the decision," he said. "I think it was the best thing for my family and me. There are the lures of the NFL - the money and the fame and all that. But, you can't make decisions based on that."

So instead of getting ready to be a rookie on a NFL roster, Mays is working out with the Trojans this offseason, prepping to be the most explosive and experienced player on a defense in transition.

"The challenges are the same as they have been in the past. We have the talent," Mays said. "We'll be all right. We just have to find our swagger. It's a matter of time. We'll find out what we have to do to get back to what we've been doing. Once we do that, we'll be fine."

Without veterans like Kevin Ellison and Brian Cushing - both captains of the 2008 team - on the defense, Mays knows he needs to step up. But in his typical fashion, Mays brushed off the challenge of being a bigger leader.

"It's nothing different for me. I just do what I've been doing and try to provide an example for my team," Mays said. "I think you kind of grow into it. Guys move on, and it becomes your turn. I can't change what I've been doing. It's been successful so far.

"It's a little different without those guys. That's just the nature of it. You have to move on."

Mays isn't worried about the changes at the top of the defense, either. With Nick Holt now the defensive coordinator at Washington, secondary coach Rocky Seto earned the promotion.

Seto's new title won't affect Mays' relationship with his long-time coach.

"I'm excited for him, but I don't think it'll make that big of a difference for me," Mays said. "He's still my coach. I'm happy for him taking that step in his career, but I don't think it'll affect me much.

"It's the same defense. He's the same guy, just with more authority. There's no way he'll use that authority in the wrong way."

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