Even though he threw three interceptions and fumbled twice in Central State’s 34-23 season-opening loss to Elizabeth City State University on Saturday at McPherson Stadium – in a performance he later called “unacceptable,” – Trent Mays’ day was far better than it could have been.
At least his head coach didn’t get any hate mail or death threats because of him as did his last coach just a year ago.
And there weren’t any protests, nor was there a petition signed by more than 11,500 people to keep him from playing like his former teammate and co-defendant has experienced in the past few weeks as he tried to play college football at Youngstown State.
While that former teammate — Ma’lik Richmond — has been banned from playing for the Penguins this season because of the furor that arose when he walked onto the YSU football team, Mays has been embraced at Central State.
“He’s a good quarterback and a good kid,” CSU athletics director Jahan Culbreath said after Saturday’s game. “He’s one of our team. He’s doing all the right things on the field and in the classroom.”
Five years ago Mays and Richmond – both teenage football standouts at Steubenville High School — were charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl who was incapacitated by alcohol. The pair chronicled the assault in text, photo and video on various forms of social media.
The incident made national headlines for months because of the glorified culture of Big Red football – the school has won nine state titles and the town of 18,000 regularly fills its 10,000 seat stadium – and also because of the way Steubenville was divided over the assault and the arrests.
Mays was the team’s quarterback, a star wrestler and an honors student.
The girl from just across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va., was also an athlete and an honors student.
In March of 2013, Mays – who like Richmond was tried as a juvenile – was adjudicated “delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt” – the juvenile equivalent of a guilty verdict.
Mays spent nearly two years at the Paint Creek Light House Youth Center in Bainbridge and upon his release he finished high school and went to Hocking College, the only junior college in Ohio that has football team.
While he played well – averaging 203 yards of offense a game as a freshman and 263 as a sophomore – his coach, Adolphus Matthews, who was then the police chief of the college in Nelsonville, as well, found himself targeted for giving Mays a chance.
The coach said some opponents took issue as well.
“There were some teams we played last year – like, I believe, Nassau and Erie (both New York schools)– where a guy or two afterward said stuff like, “I’m not gonna shake your hand, you’re a rapist,’” Matthews told me a few months ago.
He said Mays ignored the reactions and kept walking.
Matthews said Mays was different than he was portrayed by many after the assault:
“I trusted him and the players did, too. He was our team captain.
“Central State is going to love the kid.”
‘Happy to play here’
Saturday’s game began on a high note for Mays, who took the field with a black head band beneath his maroon helmet, swaths of eye black under each eye and a black brace on his left elbow.
He scored on a 4-yard run on the Marauders’ second possession of the game and then threw a 10-yard TD pass to tight end Martell Clark on the nest possession to give CSU a 14-0 lead.
Mays – who left Hocking after last season and enrolled at CSU in January – won the starting job during spring drills, said Marauders head coach Cedric Pearl.
He beat out returning starter Lavon Meeks, a nifty runner who promptly was moved to a starting wide receiver role.
Pearl said Mays and Meeks became good friends: “You always see them together now.”
Mays also seems to have a bond with Pearl. You saw them huddle together often on the sidelines Saturday.
“Once Dr. Hammond (CSU president Cynthia Jackson-Hammond) gave us the go-ahead that Trent would be on the team, we moved forward,” said Pearl. “We just started from right there in January. I didn’t worry about any of the other stuff. We treated him no different than anybody else.”
He said he tries to keep an open door and an open ear for every player: “You try to love on ‘em and listen to them and help them grow into mature young men.”
Pearl said he’s gotten none of the blowback that Matthews got at Hocking College.
“None … Zero,” he said.
Until Saturday, Pearl had not spoken publically about Mays and the junior quarterback had not spoken to the media since enrolling at CSU either.
“They have taken care of me and I’m happy to play here,” he said. “They’ve given me an opportunity, so I’m making the best of it. I feel like I fit in pretty good here.”
Richmond, meanwhile, has had a bumpier ride. He first attended California University in Pennsylvania and Potomac State College in West Virginia, though he played football at neither school.
He was attending Youngstown State as a student when Penguins coach Bo Pelini heard about him and convinced him to walk onto the team as a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive lineman.
Eventually some folks took issue with his presence and an online petition was begun demanding the school remove from the team. As of Sunday afternoon, 11,519 people had signed it.
After some other protests materialized , YSU – where former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is the school president – decided he would remain on the team, but would only practice and would not appear in games this year. He’ll lose a year of eligibility.
Then two weeks ago his dad, Nate Richmond, shot and wounded Judge Joseph Bruzzese outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville. He fired five shots at the judge, who was overseeing a civil case involving the death of Ma’lik’s grandmother and a toddler in a fire at a Metro Housing Authority apartment.
Bruzzese was hit but he returned fire, as did a probation officer who killed Richmond.
With Ma’lik again caught in the glare of sensational headlines, Mays had advanced low-key into the start of this season,
His family, though, was excited. He said he had a big contingent of relatives and frends – “more than I could count,” – at Saturday’s game.
Rough second half
Although the Marauders led 14-7 at the half, their fortunes quickly reversed in the second half.
Meeks had a pass intercepted and so did Mays. Elizabeth City, meanwhile, scored twice and had a 21-16 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Vikings added two more quick scores to start the fourth quarter and CSU was left reeling.
Although Mays would dive in for one final score with 3:23 left, he was intercepted again at the end of the game.
“I had too many mistakes throwing the ball down the field,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job.”
Pearl said he saw “a mix” of good and not so good from Mays Saturday:
“He’s still learning and he’ll be better the next time. He was just trying way too hard to make big plays. I told him to just take what the defense gives you. You don’t have to make the big splashy play every time.
“I told him about Barry Bonds. He had 700 home runs, but he went to bat over 10,000 times. You can’t hit ‘em all outta the park.”
Mays ended up completing 22 of 37 passes for 197 yards. He was sacked twice and his 11 rushing attempts produced minus-5 yards.
After the game, the Elizabeth City players in the handshake line all congratulated Mays without incident and the Vikings big defensive end Tremayne Sweat even reached over and hugged him and offered some words.
“There’s no reason not to like him,” Pearl said of Mays. “’He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. He’s been a good leader and a model citizen from day one. He’s been making the right decisions.”
And most of all, that’s what Trent Mays has to do right now.
Make the right decisions.