Mayo still setting NFL goals
It's exceedingly rare when two players from the same high school land with the same NFL team.
But what are the odds that two graduates of Scappoose High — enrollment 720 — would end up up playing alongside each other?
"Pretty darn slim," David Mayo said.
But it's true.
The backup quarterback for the Carolina Panthers last season was Derek Anderson, Scappoose Class of 2001.
The backup middle linebacker was Mayo, Class of 2011.
The citizens of Scappoose, a town of 7,000 located 20 miles northwest of Portland, are understandably proud that two of their own made it to their sport's highest echelon.
Anderson was a highly recruited prep All-American who wound up having a storied career at Oregon State. A sixth-round draft choice, he spent the last seven years of what is now a 13-year NFL career with Carolina.
Mayo, a decade younger than Anderson at 24, is much more of an underdog. With no scholarship offers out of high school, Mayo played a year of junior college ball before landing a scholarship at Texas State, where he played well enough to be chosen by the Panthers in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. Mayo made the team as a rookie and is now preparing for his fourth NFL season in 2018.
"David's story is fantastic," Anderson said. "He's a guy who continued to work and grind and do anything and everything he could to give himself an opportunity. I'm really proud of him. It's been great to watch."
• • •
Mayo grew up idolizing Anderson.
"He's like the hometown hero," Mayo said. "Everyone from Scappoose knows who Derek Anderson is."
Mayo is the youngest of seven children — four boys and three girls.
"Growing up in a big family was a blast," Mayo said. "I had to learn to fend for myself. (My siblings) toughened me up a lot. They took care of me, too. We're all best friends. It was all in good fun."
His father, Wayne, is a building contractor. The family moved from St. Helens to Scappoose when he was a sophomore in high school.
Long before then, David had big dreams.
"I remember thinking I was going to the NFL in fourth grade," he said. "I first played youth football in the third grade on a team of third- and fourth-graders. A lot of the kids were way better and faster and stronger than me. You get hit, the weather sucks — I wasn't a huge fan at first.
"After that season, my mom asked me to try it again the next year. I said, 'OK, I'll give it one more shot.' I played that year and everything just clicked. I was a little bit bigger and stronger and did pretty well, and I was hooked. That's when I decided going to NFL was what I wanted to do."
By the time he was a senior, Mayo was the Indians' best athlete, a 6-1, 215-pound star running back and linebacker in football, and a track man who won four events (discus, shot put, javelin, high hurdles) at the district meet. Even so, he didn't attract the attention of college recruiters.
"Portland State wanted me to walk on," Mayo said. "Oregon and Oregon State didn't give me the time of day. Western Oregon and Southern Oregon were interested. Southern gave me some sort of offer, but I told them I was going to go the junior college route. I wanted to eventually play Division I football. I knew I could do it."
• • •
Mayo played a season for Santa Monica JC in California. For the six months he was there, he lived in a shed located behind a woman's house that he rented for $450 a month.
"We were looking at places online for me to live and it was just so expensive. It was outrageous," he said.
Eventually, he got into contact with the woman willing to rent out her shed.
"We checked it out and it was better for me than staying in a studio apartment with like five people," Mayo said. "It was a nice shed, but it was still a shed — cement floor, plywood walls. I had to duck to get in. There was no electricity or heat or air conditioning. They let me use the kitchen and the bathroom in the house."
Mayo had an extension cord to the house that allowed him to power his computer, phone charger, a lamp and a space heater for the winter. He had a bed and an ottoman for his clothes.
"It worked for me," he said.
After a successful freshman season, Mayo got a scholarship offer from Texas State, in San Marcos near Austin.
"I took a visit, loved the coaches and the campus," he said. "I was ready to pull the trigger after that. It was a really good decision."
• • •
Mayo wound up as a three-year starter at Texas State, but it wasn't all smooth sailing. As a sophomore, he suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the second half of the season. As a junior, Mayo missed two games with another knee injury.
But as a senior, Mayo finished second in the nation with 154 tackles, was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and helped the Bobcats to their first winning season (7-5) as an FBS program.
Even so, Mayo did not receive an invitation to the NFL Combine. He ran only 4.7 seconds in the 40 at Texas State's Pro Day and the Panthers were the only team to invite him for a pre-draft workout.
Mayo didn't go to training camp, figuring he had the team made.
"I'm not going to lie — I was stressed," he said. "Nobody made me feel like my spot on the team was secure. I never got that vibe. I had some people tell me, 'You're probably going to make it,' but others said, 'You could be out of here.' You just never know. Fifth-round picks get cut all the time.
"There were times when I didn't think I was going to make it. But I worked extremely hard and played pretty well in camp."
Work ethic is what got Mayo to the NFL, his father said.
"I have two boys who were faster than David, one who was stronger than him," Wayne Mayo said.
None worked harder than David, however.
"Here's how driven he was in high school. He would get up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning. A janitor would let him into the school and he would work on his twitch muscles — jump rope, that sort of thing. He had a trainer at Scappoose High who gave him directions to help speed himself up. He was dedicated.
"He just works so hard. He will outwork you. He will watch more (video) than you. And he has had to use every bit of brain that God gave him."
Mayo remembers when Carolina coaches told him he had made the team.
"That day was weird," he said. "When you first get there, there are a ton of guys. You go through spring (organized team activities) and then training camp and you develop a bond with a lot of the guys. Then guys get cut and it's like, 'Dang, the team got small real quick.' And finally, you're one of the few still standing. It was awesome."
• • •
As a rookie, Mayo played special teams on a Carolina squad that lost 24-10 to Denver in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
"What can you say when, your first year in the league, you go to the Super Bowl?" he asked. "I mean, that's crazy. It was amazing. It was an experience I'll always remember.
"There are guys who play 10-plus years and never even make the playoffs. I was blessed."
Mayo, now 6-2 and 240, has continued to play on all four special teams units during his first three seasons with the Panthers.
"David has been a great addition to our team," Anderson said. "He has embraced his role and become one of our best special-teams players."
Last season, Mayo also served as backup to starting middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a five-time Pro Bowler. Mayo started one game and registered 19 total tackles through the season.
Kuechly has become a close friend and mentor to Mayo.
"It's part of why I've grown so much as a player," Mayo said. "He's an exceptional player, but it's not by chance. The guy works his butt off. He studies really hard, and he works really hard. He's a true professional.
"On top of that, he's a great guy. He helps people out all the time. He's a great leader. I've learned so much from him. I get to absorb a lot of things he does. It's been great learning from him in every way."
Mayo has become easy to spot on the field with his long locks flowing out his helmet, though his hair is a bit shorter now. Imagine Clay Matthews.
"I started growing it in college," he said. "By the time I was a rookie with the Panthers, it was really long. I got the Matthews comparison all the time in college. I worked at a rental place in the summers — I would hand out tubes to float — and on a Saturday I'd get the 'You look like Clay Matthews' 50 times, at least.
"After my rookie season, I cut a foot of it off to donate to 'Locks of Love.' I grew it back, but I recently cut 10 inches off to donate again. But I still have a ponytail — don't worry."
• • •
Mayo will be in the final year of his four-year rookie contract next season. Before the season starts, he'll become a father for the first time. His wife, Jordan, is expecting on July 12. "We're going to wait to find out whether it's a boy or girl," he said.
He has big goals, for next season and for the future.
"I want to improve every day," Mayo said. "I want to eventually play linebacker in this league. I want to continue to grow like I have the last three years. I'll take whatever steps I need to be a guy (the Panthers) can count on whenever they need me. The rest is in God's hands."