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Tennessee Athletics photo by Caleb Jones / Tennessee offensive lineman Cade Mays, who transferred from Georgia in January, is pictured during the first preseason practice for the Vols on Aug. 17.

The Cade Mays saga of 2020 has cleared a huge hurdle toward reaching a successful conclusion for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Mays, the former five-star offensive tackle from Knoxville Catholic who started his career at the University of Georgia before transferring back to Knoxville in January, had his appeal for immediate eligibility approved by the NCAA. Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt revealed the news Thursday night during a Zoom meeting that followed practice.

"This has always been a two-step process, and the next thing is the SEC," Pruitt said. "It's good that our governing body decided to allow him to play. Now we go to the SEC, and I've not really had a chance to talk to (SEC commissioner) Greg (Sankey) much about it.

"The SEC in the past has not allowed this, so this would obviously be a waiver through the SEC."

Pruitt announced after Tennessee's first practice on Aug. 17 that the NCAA had initially denied an appeal waiver from Mays, the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder who was a Freshman All-American for Georgia in 2018 and started 11 of 14 games for last season's Bulldogs.

Mays played all five positions last season, starting six games at right guard, two at right tackle and two at left guard, and he started at left tackle in the Sugar Bowl whipping of Baylor. He spent significant time at center during the shutout win over Missouri.

The transfer of a player yet to graduate from one SEC program to another and receiving immediate eligibility "would be a first," Pruitt said. Maurice Smith was a graduate transfer defensive back who transferred from Alabama to Georgia in 2016, and current Vols center Brandon Kennedy left Tuscaloosa in 2018.

Pruitt also provided good news on the coronavirus front when asked how many players on the two-deep chart would be available for the season opener at South Carolina a week from Saturday.

"I would say all of them," Pruitt said. "We would have everybody right now."

One player who may not be suiting up any time soon is fifth-year senior tight end Austin Pope, who announced July 16 on Twitter that he had undergone surgery for a herniated disc.

"Austin is not going to play right now," Pruitt said, "so we're working Princeton Fant and Sean Brown and Jordan Allen and Jacob Warren, so we've got a lot of guys who are getting reps in there."

Two players trying to work their way back into action are sophomore offensive tackle Wanya Morris and senior defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon. Pruitt said Morris has been quarantined twice and that Thursday's practice was just his second in 23 days.

"They've got a lot of work to do," Pruitt said, "but hopefully we can get some plays out of them next Saturday, and that will be determined by this next week."

The Vols have started preparations for South Carolina and spent a lot of time Thursday on special teams. Pruitt said Thursday's practice had the most player participation since the third workout of the preseason.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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