It’s been a ‘special’ four years for Viera’High's Kevin and Brandon Mays
Brandon to be among 23 players honored on Senior Night
It's not always easy to coach your kid, but Viera Hight's Kevin Mays, left, and his son, senior linebacker Brandon Mays, have done a good job of leaving the coach-player part of their relationship on the field and not taking it home.
They’re both men of few words. More direct than effusive.
They share a passion for the game of football, but also for a balanced life that means shortly after practice ends, so does football talk.
They are coach and player. Father and son.
And tonight will be a special one for Viera High’s Kevin and Brandon Mays.
Before the Hawks take on the Heritage Panthers in the final game of the regular season, Kevin and his wife, Erica, will accompany Brandon as part of Viera’s Senior Night ceremony.
The past four years have been the best in the history of the Viera High football program. Viera has won four straight district titles, reached the Class 7A state championship game and a regional final, and is setting itself up for another deep postseason run this year.
Brandon has been a four-year starter at linebacker for the Hawks. He was selected first-team all-state as a junior and was recently selected – along with teammate Miguel Rodriguez – to play in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 6.
In July, Brandon committed to attend West Point and play football for Army.
Tonight, he will be honored along with the rest of Viera’s seniors, which include Rodriguez; Travis Jones; Seth Kennedy; David Eaton; Noah Cherichel; Qunelius Phillips; Trey Schaneville; Jaren Lewis; Tim DeMorat; Kyler Doane; Max Pacheaco; Quinton Russack-Cradeur; James Klaas; Carson Helton; Mike Buccieri; Gio Allen; Matt Foose; Alex Balough; Max Lawson; Jordan Allen; Blake Bolster and Anthony Collard.
With the playoffs looming, tonight’s game won’t be the last time Kevin and Brandon share the same field. But that day is coming soon.
“It’s been special just because we get to spend time together,” Kevin Mays said of having the opportunity to coach his son.
“I think it’s been easier because he’s a defensive player and I deal with the offensive side. But it has been fun to have him out there and be able to be around him every day.
“For him to grow into what he’s become – a leader, a good football player, (committed to) West Point … all of those things. Obviously, me and Erica, his mom, are proud of him.”
For Brandon, the experience has been one that has certainly had its pros and cons over the years. But it’s also helped shape him into the person he is today.
“It’s definitely challenging at times, being the (coach’s) son,” Brandon Mays said. “I feel like there’s more pressure on you to be good and produce, make sure you know everything that’s going on.
“It seems like every day people, instead of going to ask my dad what we’re doing today, they come and ask me like they think we talk about it at dinner the night before.”
If anything, the opposite is true. As the Mays family has found out over the years, the best way to make their relationship work is to put aside the coach-player connection as soon as they leave Viera High School.
That’s true after practice, and it’s true after games.
“There’s not a lot of football talk at home,” Kevin said. “We do all our talking here.”
The genesis of that separation between player-coach and father-son likely came when Brandon was playing youth football. Although Kevin was not his main coach, he would always offer his assistance.
One ride home after practice changed everything.
“He was 10 and we were on our way home and I was yelling at him for not having a good practice,” Kevin said. “He started getting upset and teary-eyed and stuff like that, and that made me realize … what am I doing?
“Let him be who he’s going to be. That’s when I learned to separate dad and football coach.”
While his parents have obviously had a huge impact in his upbringing, Brandon has also benefitted from playing under Viera defensive coordinator Derek Smith, a childhood friend of Kevin’s who has known and helped coach Brandon all of his life.
“Brandon as a kid was always being coached by his dad, and me,” Smith wrote in an email. “He has always been a cerebral player. It might not always have been good for him to have a dad as a coach (because) he was always held to a higher standard than the other players when he was young.
“It paid big dividends though as a high school player though. Kevin has done a great job separating dad from coach in high school. Brandon being on defense allows him to separate the two duties dad, and coach. … Ultimately, a great pair.”
They’re not the only father-son pair on the Viera roster, either. Viera wide receivers coach Todd Schaneville’s son, Trey, is a senior who serves as the team’s field goal kicker while also playing defensive back and wide receiver. Defensive backs coach DeMarkulus Menyfield’s son, JakQuez, is a junior defensive back.
When Brandon was a freshman at Viera, Kevin said he told Smith to let him know if Brandon was good enough to start on defense. If not, Brandon would spend the year on the JV team.
When Smith came back and said Brandon was indeed good enough to start, it became all about the team. At least, that’s how Kevin took it. And soon, Brandon’s play any naysayers who may have thought the freshman was starting just because he was the coach’s son.
That same season, in a blowout win over Rockledge, Brandon was put in at quarterback late in the game and scored his first touchdown.
“I remember that play very vividly,” Brandon said. “The snap was a little high, so I couldn’t really get the handoff. I just ran to where the back was going, saw a hole and just ran for it. Everybody jumped on me after that.”
It was clearly a happy moment for Kevin, too. But as Brandon came to the sideline afterward, he had only two words for him:
The words may have been few, but the meaning of them was not lost in translation.
“We’re not lovey-dovey, telling each other big stuff,” Brandon said. “We’re short and to the point and I think we both understand each other enough that we know what we mean.”
When he arrives at West Point next year, Brandon will become one of a number of Hawks who have moved on to play college football. The fit with the Army, he said, just felt right.
“It had everything I was looking for,” Brandon said. “I really wanted to go to a school that had a great education and a degree that could help me get a job. They play big FBS football.
“I’ve always thought of being in the military and I’ve always liked the idea of it. After talking to the coaches and doing more research on the military and the school, I just thought it would be a perfect fit. I feel like the military is really what I want to do.”
Whenever Viera’s season eventually ends – the Hawks are hoping to make a run to their second state championship game -- Brandon admitted it will be an emotional night.
And not playing for his father next season, well, that will take a little getting used to.
“I’ve thought about it,” Brandon said. “I think it’s going to be weird when I get to college and he’s not my coach. The last four years, it’s all I’ve known.
“I think I’ll like it at first, but him being my dad aside, I think he’s a really good coach. I like the way he coaches. It will be different.”
It will be different for dad, too, in more ways than one.
But while Kevin may not always be his coach, he’ll always be Brandon’s dad. Talk about a special relationship.
For tonight, and however long the season goes from now, it’s player and coach, father and son … and the entire Hawks roster along with them, making one final push for glory.
“I’m trying to keep a positive spin on it,” Kevin said of the end of Brandon’s high school career. “It’s going to be very exciting for him to go to West Point. I’m looking forward to seeing him grow.
“Obviously, it will be different. He’s been a four-year starter for us. Not having him there will be different. But I’ve got two more sons. Brian will probably play for us next year, so I’ll still have somebody there. And Blake’s only a couple of years behind him.
“Just like anybody, you hate to see your kid leave the house. But I’m excited to see him go do his thing.”