Former East High football standout P.J. Mays has returned to the new East High as head coach of the Panthers. In 1997, Mays led the East Golden Bears to their only playoff victory in school history, a 20-14 win over Jackson in the Division III playoffs. The following week, East lost 20-6 to City Series rival Chaney.
A 1998 graduate of East, he went on to a Hall of Fame career at Youngstown State Univeristy and a brief stint wth the San Diego Chargers.
Mays has served as an assistant coach at Chaney under Ron Berdis and at Struthers under Dallas Saunders.
Q. When did you get started in coaching?
A. When I came back from San Diego I was seeing what the landscape of my life was going to be and I ran into Mark Lyden, my old high school coach. He said coach (Ron) Berdis was looking for coaches. I started in 2004 at Chaney working for coach Berdis then later went to Sruthers for three years.
Q. What do you like the most about coaching?
A. Being able to show them something. When they come from middle school they haven’t yet learned the finer points of the game, just the fundamentals. When you get them at the high school level you can develop a little more of what they’ll see in college and introduce new concepts. The first part is teaching them football, then you can re-introduce it to them at a higher level.
Q. What are some aspects of being the head coach that you did not anticipate?
A. At East it is a very different set-up than any other high school in our area. We have four different campuses and different academic programs so there are a lot of different obstacles than if everyone was at a single building or campus.
There are a lot of logistical issues and things we deal with more than I could have anticipated. At the same time, working through those issues is more rewarding. Working with kids’ schedules and working with the administrators in those programs as well, it’s a little more than I could have thought, but the reward is greater too.
Q. How do you like the progress of your team?
A. They are taking to our coaching very well, understanding concepts. Our junior class is real strong and we will lean on them heavily and the seniors that we have are doing well in that they have stepped up in leadership.
It’s been really good to watch their evolution from Aug. 5 to now and even back a little further. I got here in February and there were quite a few guys I didn’t think would be on the team that have come and stepped up. I am grateful for the kids that have come out and accepted the coaching we are giving them. I am pleased with the growth from March through summer and from Aug. 5 to now.
Q. How does the success you had as a player affect how the kids see you as a coach?
A. I don’t bring it up at all, but nowadays it’s so easy go Google someone. A few guys know about me and I think it gives me some gridion cred with the guys. They’ve seen a couple things from my college career but unfortunately they haven’t seen much about my senior season at East.
They’ve asked about it but I can’t give them much of how we went 7-2 that year and made the playoffs, about the Chaney-East playoff game. They want to see that kind of stuff when I was their age.
Q. What sort of team will the East Panthers be this year?
A. We will try to be an aggressive-front defense from the 50 formation. It all starts on the defensive side putting pressure on teams. We will be hard-hitting and flying to the football.
On offense we will use multiple sets and try to find what works for that game and that opponent. We’ll see what we can exploit and go from there. We have some dynamic players but it all comes down to the five guys up front, they will determine our success. If they can get movement at the point of attack, that’s what matters.
Q. Have you stressed to your players how special it is to play high school football in the Youngstown area?
A. I’ve expressed to them that everywhere I’ve gone to play football I never felt the game was too much for me, I never felt out of place because of growing up here. If you can succeed here, you can succeed anywhere. We play a high level of football here and anything you do that creates success will carry over wherever you go.
Interview by Vindicator sports reporter Doug Chapin.