Lake Norman & Mooresville

Athletic safety helps solidify Huskies' defense

Nate Mays' potential showed in his first varsity season last year, when the defensive back was honored as an all-conference selection for Hough.

Because of that performance, the Huskies' second-year coaching staff made a few adjustments to the team's defense that have allowed the senior to play a larger role.

"They've put me in a good position with how I'm playing in the middle of the field," said Mays. "I can get a better read of the quarterback - if I see him looking left, I can go left and try to get the pick."

That move is paying off, as the 5-10, 180-pound free safety led the Huskies in tackling and interceptions heading into Hough's Sept. 16's I-Meck opener at Vance.

He also credits his improvement to his focus in the weight room and to the hours of film he watches every week.

Mays is all over the field, constantly looking to make the big play - whether that is shutting down a receiver, making a key tackle or forcing a turnover.

He just wants to do what his Huskies need of him. That's always his main focus.

"We're a team - it's not all about the individual," he said, explaining that his personal success takes a back seat. "If that means me having a weak game and the team winning, I'll take it."

Mays said that developing a short-term memory on the field - not worrying about whether he made a good or bad play on the previous down - has also helped him. Keeping his emotions in check, the 17-year-old said, allows him to better help his team.

Mays has come a long way since he failed to make the cut for his middle school football team. He said that experience motivated him to become the player he is now.

"It was an eye-opener," he said. "I was a small, puny kid, but I put in the work to get better."

Hough coach Bobby Collins said Mays has been living up to the coaches' confidence.

"He's playing like the senior captain that he is," he said.

Collins added that he's been impressed by Mays' style of play, as he's always going full speed, whether its on the practice field or on Friday nights, as well as his athleticism.

"He can do things that the average high school athlete can't," said Collins. "He can cover a lot of ground."

He said a lot of that comes from the Mays' competitive nature.

"When we're playing against a great athlete, he wants to be the one who covers him," said Collins. "It's pretty good when you have a guy like that on the field."

Having grown up playing running back has helped him with the handwork and speed that he often needs in the defensive backfield, Mays said.

He added that he enjoys getting the shot to run the ball back after each interception.

"It's nice to get a taste of my old position, now that I'm on defense," said Mays.

After playing some offense on the junior varsity team at North Meck in his freshman year, Mays said, he thought moving to defense would allow him to see more playing time. He quickly discovered how fun that was.

Mays said the best part about playing defense is getting the chance to hit his opponents hard.

"Having the big hit, under the lights, with everybody watching, is fun," he said. "You can't beat that."

The Hough defense, which was giving up an average of 28 points per game in its first four games, has had its ups-and-downs, especially when it comes to keeping efficient running games from scoring, said Mays, but he added that the unit has demonstrated how good they can be in the team's 20-3 win against Providence.

Mays will continue to help his team however he can, hoping it can reach its goal of making the playoffs.

Collins said the Huskies have the talent to do that, but he added that both sides need to do a better job, especially the offense in limiting turnovers.

"As long as we do that, I know the defense will make plays and put us in good positions to be able to win a game," said Collins.