Warszawski: Time for a National Signing Day reality break

The Fresno BeeFebruary 6, 2014 

Fresno State's Vincent Mays defends Washington's Sonny Shackelford as he comes down with a touchdown during their game on Sept. 16, 2006, in Seattle. Mays, a four-star recruit out of Sacramento, played four seasons for the Bulldogs but found his real passion didn't lay in football but in music. He's now signed to Jamie Foxx's record label.

MARK CROSSE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

People still ask Vince Mays why he isn't playing football. Why he isn't playing in the NFL.

Mays understands why they ask. Sometimes the former Fresno State safety asks himself the same thing. But there's no easy answer. There's no simple explanation for why heralded recruits don't always become standouts on the field.

"I get tired of the questions," Mays says in a weary voice, "so whenever I'm back home I try to lay low."

Twelve years ago, Mays was riding high. He was a star two-way player at Sacramento's Johnson High. So good that even though he rushed for 2,143 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder was even better on defense.

Rivals.com rated him the No. 10 safety in the nation. Max Emfinger's Blue Chip Recruiting rated him the No. 12 prospect in the state. On the Student Sports All-America squad from 2002, his name is listed on the second-team defense next to Devin Hester's.

Signing Mays was a coup for Fresno State. The four-star recruit had offers from Oregon, Arizona and Illinois. But Mays liked the school, and he liked the coaches who recruited him.

It helped that Fresno wasn't too far from home (Mays had a daughter on the way), and the crush of national attention the Bulldogs got from their 6-0 start in 2001 certainly didn't hurt.

Everything seemed set for Mays to become one of the best safeties in school history.

Which didn't happen.

To hardcore college football fans, Wednesday was the biggest day of the year. High school players across the country signed national letters of intent, and college coaches used words like "thrilled" and "excited" to describe their recruiting classes.

Scouting services then ranked each school's class according to the ratings they've given each player. Ratings that are little more than a calculated crapshoot. Semi-educated guesswork.

There's nothing inherently evil about any of this, just as long as everyone understands the number of stars next to an 18-year-old's name is only one factor that will determine how good a college football player he'll become.

Compared to his character and physical development, not to mention coaching, it isn't even the most important factor.

This is especially true at Fresno State, where several of the top players in the program's recent history signed with zero or minimal fanfare.

Merced College was the only other school that wanted Logan Mankins. At least 25 California quarterbacks in David Carr's class were rated higher than the future NFL No. 1 overall pick. Bear Pascoe, Bernard Berrian, Robbie Rouse and Davante Adams were two-star guys.

But there's another side to the story, the four-star recruits who make their biggest impact on signing day. Does the name Ricky Miller ring a bell? How about James Paulk and Davon Dunn?

What happened to Vince Mays?

Mays arrived at Fresno State expecting to play right away and expecting to play for J.D. Williams, the defensive backs coach during his recruitment.

Neither happened. Williams, the former Bulldogs cornerback, left Fresno State to join Jeff Tedford at Cal. The replacement was Randy Stewart, the guy Cal fired to bring in Williams.

From the start, player and coach didn't see eye to eye. There were obvious personality conflicts. Mays, according to his team bio, was "a team favorite for his quick wit and charm." Stewart, by contrast, was gruff and intense.

Instead of making an immediate impact, Mays got buried on the bench. Besides, the Bulldogs were stacked at safety. In front of him on the depth chart (and one year ahead in eligibility) were two guys who went on to play 15 combined seasons in the NFL: James Sanders and Tyrone Culver.

Mays finally cracked the starting lineup as a senior, but he didn't feel like one. He felt more like a rookie plagued by doubt and inexperience. As the Bulldogs slumped to a 4-8 record, he got discouraged.

"(NFL scouts) wanted to work me out, but I just wasn't interested," Mays says. "I was frustrated with football. I felt like I didn't want to play no more."

Fortunately for Mays, he had an outlet for his frustrations: poetry. It was something he had done since high school, and by the time he got to Fresno State his verse started gaining notice.

Some of those poems became raps, and Mays began writing beats to go with them. He and teammate Marcus Riley crafted a remix of the school fight song, titled "Undeniably Red," that got played at Bulldogs home games.

Mays got his degree in communications and kept at it. He went to work for Zinkin Entertainment and wrote walk-up songs for UFC fighters Chuck Liddell and Josh Koscheck.

Last year, Mays got his big break when he was introduced to Jamie Foxx through a mutual friend. It just so happened Foxx was looking for new artists for his start-up music label.

That's how VMayz (his recording name) got signed to Foxx City Records. He's living in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches on his debut album, "Sacramento King," due out in March.

"Writing is my outlet," he says. "I wrote all the lyrics, and all the beats came off my ideas and being in the studio with my producer."

Want to know why Vince Mays isn't playing football? Because his true calling lay elsewhere. That's something scouting service stars can't measure.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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