New coach helms Austin-East football amid COVID-19 concerns

High School

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Taking over a football program can pose it’s own challenges, let alone during a pandemic.

Antonio Mays took over Austin-East Magnet football after Jeff Phillips resigned in May. While Mays has experience as a head coach prior to taking on this role for the Roadrunner, this year is quite different.

“I’m standing on the shoulders of not just Jeff Phillips but every coach that has come here that’s paved the way,” says Mays.

The new head coach for the Roadrunners has to balance the pressure of taking the lead along with the changes COVID-19 has caused; including the uncertainty of a season.

“As football coaches, a lot of us are control freaks and this pandemic teaches us how much control we don’t have,” says Mays.

The one aspect he can control regarding this season is who he brings on as assistant coaches.

Mays is building a culture at Austin-East built on hard work and family values. He tells his team he loves them every day, a daily ritual that is very important to him. The former defensive coordinator says he will not bring any coaches on his staff that does not care for the kids.

“I don’t really care about the Xs and Os,” says Mays, “I care about the heart if the heart is there, the Xs and Os will come… We got to make sure our heart is right.”

Aside from being the head coach, Mays is a college and career access coach Project GRAD Knoxville at Austin-East. He is passionate about mentoring young men and women, helping set them up for a successful future.

Mays carries that mentorship onto the football field.

“I tell the kids all the time I’m not a football coach, I’m a mentor who does it through football,” says Mays passionately, “It’s our goal to create positive citizens in society and we do that through football, but we can do that through other avenues as well.”

If the season does not pan out this year due to coronavirus concerns, Mays’ game plan is to hit the books preparing for the ACT and focusing on grades.

Mays prides himself and his team on hard work, reflecting in their motto, “gotta’ go to work,” which can be heard frequently during conditioning.

Mays truly loves his job as a head coach and working for project GRAD who describes his workday as “another day in paradise.”

As the Roadrunners await to hear from the TSSAA on if and what a season would look like this year—they will continue to work.   

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