COLUMBIA, Mo. • Saturday was stressful enough for Mike and Gwyn Mauk. Their youngest son, Maty, was thrust into one of college football’s most hostile environments — asked to salvage Missouri’s victory at Georgia’s deafening Sanford Stadium. Starting quarterback James Franklin had injured his shoulder early in the fourth quarter. With the Tigers nursing a two-point lead, Mauk’s time had arrived.
“I looked down and saw Maty had his helmet on,” said Mike, who watched from the crowd. “I knew he’d be ready.”
The Mauks’ weekend was just getting started.
Gwyn suffered a kidney stone attack on the family’s trip back to Ohio and underwent surgery Monday in Cleveland. Tuesday morning, she was still in recovery.
“It’s been a really hectic week so far,” Mike Mauk said.
Hectic, yes, but with the pesky stone removed, the Mauks can soon focus their attention on the next challenge. Maty, the Tigers’ redshirt freshman, makes his first college start Saturday against No. 22 Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC), and its frothing herd of Gator defenders. When No. 14 Missouri (6-0, 2-0) kicks off Saturday, it will be 686 days since the 2011 Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV championship game at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon — the last time Mauk started a game.
No pressure, right?
“This is why he’s at the University of Missouri,” Mike said, who doubled as Maty’s head coach at Kenton High School. “He wanted to play in these situations and be a part of that team and that program and compete against the teams he’s going to compete against. He’s well prepared.”
“He’s been dreaming of this opportunity since he was a little kid,” Mike added, “watching his brother play in the state championship when he was on the sidelines.”
By then, Matthew Mauk was known as Maty, a nickname Gwyn gave him when he was little.
“He got to middle school, and his mom asked him, ‘Do you want to go by Matt or Matthew?’” Mike said. “He told her, ‘Why would I do that? My name’s Maty.’”
It stuck. And when older brother Ben was wrapping up his senior year as the University of Cincinnati’s quarterback — Ben had started at Wake Forest, transferred to Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to 10 wins in 2007 — Maty was getting started on what became a record-breaking four-year run as Kenton’s quarterback. He finished his career as the nation’s all-time leader for high school passing yards (18,932), passing touchdowns (219), pass completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681). Most of those records belonged to Ben, who also piloted Mike’s five-wide spread attack.
At Kenton, Ben won two state championships. That became the standard for Maty, who took over his dad’s offense in 2008 and spent four years flinging the ball all over central Ohio.
“He lived his whole life to have the chance to achieve that,” Mike Mauk said.
The state championship eluded Mauk — Kenton lost that 2011 title game 48-42 despite Mauk’s 421 passing yards — but he’d get a shot at major college football. A coveted target of former Mizzou offensive coordinator David Yost, Mauk committed to the Tigers in July of 2011, before his senior season, choosing MU over Michigan, Notre Dame and Cincinnati.
Around the time he pledged his commitment, Mauk visited Springfield, Mo., to visit his older sister and her family — plus another Mizzou recruit. That’s when Mauk and Dorial Green-Beckham, the prized wide receiver from Hillcrest High, first discussed potentially playing together.
“I still wasn’t sure where I was going, but I already had a feeling what he was thinking in his head,” Green-Beckham said.
At Georgia, they re-connected, this time for a 20-yard completion that set up Missouri’s game-clinching touchdown two plays later. The pass, Mauk’s only downfield throw in his relief appearance, helped ease offensive coordinator Josh Henson’s mind as he watched from the coaches’ booth.
“If I was more impressed with anything, I thought his demeanor out on the field was calm,” Henson said. “I thought he kept his head. I thought he stayed poised.”
Having thrown just three passes in his other cameos this season, Mauk entered Saturday’s game with 10:35 left, facing third and 6. Henson gave Mauk a five-wide formation — Kenton High all over again — and called for a quarterback draw.
“Honestly, I think that was the perfect play-call for Maty,” center Evan Boehm said. “Just say, ‘Hey, welcome to the big show. It’s time to go out there and play.’ He did just that.”
Mauk found a crease behind left tackle Justin Britt, pulling guard Connor McGovern and a block from Henry Josey and plunged for the 49-yard line, with linebacker Ramik Wilson wrapped around his waist. First down.
From there, the redshirt freshman earned the save out of the bullpen — and the confidence of his teammates and coaches heading into an unknown stretch as the starting quarterback. Franklin will miss three to five weeks with a sprained throwing shoulder.
“He’s a versatile guy,” quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. “He’s got a great arm. He’s tremendously skilled in throwing the football. He also can get out and create on the run.”
“Maty is a natural leader,” Boehm added. “At first he was a little soft at the line giving us the call. At a place like Georgia, when it’s so loud, you can’t do that. We told him, ‘Hey, man. Take control. It’s your team now. It’s your offense.’”
That offense won’t change much with Mauk behind center. Throughout the week, the staff will tailor the game plan to plays that Mauk handles well in practice, Henson said, but the Tigers won’t change their base attack against a Florida defense that ranks among the nation’s top 10 in most categories.
Mauk insisted he can handle the team’s entire playbook, but he knows his teammates have his support. With Florida coming to town Saturday — Mike and Gwyn will be here, too — Mauk’s ready for his shot.
“I’m not nervous or anything,” he said. “I just know I have to come out and give everything I have to be focused, get a good week of practice and come out Saturday ... and be me.”