COLUMBIA — The last time Maty Mauk started a football game, he threw for 421 yards and five touchdowns in the 2011 Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV state final.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Mauk also ran for a touchdown that day in front of a crowd of 10,329 at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
In other words, it was nothing like the crucible he’ll be thrown into Saturday when Mauk leads the 14th-ranked Missouri Tigers, 6-0, against No. 22 Florida, 4-2, at Memorial Stadium, where a crowd of roughly 70,000 is expected.
“He’s going to be nervous and we know he’s going to be nervous, but he’ll be fine,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Monday at his weekly news conference.
Mauk, a redshirt freshman, played sparingly this season before the final 10 minutes, 35 seconds of the fourth quarter last Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
Stepping in for injured starter James Franklin, the Tigers’ 18-point halftime lead had been whittled to 28-26 and Mauk faced third-and-6 on his first snap with more than 90,000 Bulldogs fans in full throat.
Mauk picked up 6 yards plus the length of the football, dragging Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson for a first down, and went on to lead two touchdown drives as Missouri pulled away for a 41-26 win.
Of course, with Franklin sidelined three to five weeks because of a sprained shoulder, Mauk faces a new and different challenge as he takes the Tigers’ reins for the foreseeable future.
“The main thing is I’m not going to be back there at practice taking mental reps with the ones,” Mauk said. “I’ll be actually taking the reps. That’s the big thing — to go out there (in practice) and get that chemistry back and get their confidence in me up. I’m going to be busting my butt 100 percent, and they know that. We’re going to have a good week of practice and be ready to go come Saturday.”
By now, most fans know Mauk was a Parade All-American as a senior at Kenton High School and graduated with national high school records for passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681).
He’s also a coach’s son. Mauk’s father, Mike, still coaches at Kenton.
Most of those national records Mauk broke belonged to his older brother, Ben, who went on to play at Wake Forest and Cincinnati, guiding the Bearcats to 10 wins as a senior in 2007.
Mauk — a 6-foot-1, 200-pound dual-threat — brought a remarkable pedigree to the Tigers, but that alone doesn’t win football games.
“I talked to him (Wednesday) and he’s excited,” Mike Mauk said. “He’s anxious and aware of the ramifications of the game. But at the same time, if you’re a competitor, you should be excited about that and that’s where he is.”
Franklin had been unflappable this season, displaying a knack for engineering drives at critical times. His steady demeanor was perhaps the Missouri offense’s biggest asset.
While Mauk doesn’t have Franklin’s experience — Mauk is five of six passing for 41 yards in his college career — coaches rave about Mauk’s poise.
“He’s a smart kid, he’s played a lot of good football in his career,” Tigers associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. “He’ll be ready to roll. … He’s got a cool demeanor. I’ll say that. A lot of things don’t really bother Maty.”
Offensive coordinator Josh Henson insists that the entire playbook is available. Pinkel said the game plan will be tailored to Mauk’s strengths and the plays he’s most comfortable with, but the Tigers’ coaches don’t expect the offense to be limited without Franklin.
“Maty’s just as good as James,” sophomore center Evan Boehm, a Lee’s Summit West graduate, said. “James is a special kid, but Maty — we’re not going to treat the situation any different than if James were there. We’re very confident with Maty.”
That confidence permeates the Tigers.
“He’s a great athlete and they didn’t recruit him for nothing,” senior left tackle Justin Britt said. “He’s here for a reason, and he’s ready to go. We’re putting all our faith Maty for right now, and we know he’ll do great.”
Last year, Missouri struggled without Franklin, but the Tigers’ offensive line also was decimated by injuries.
Right now, Missouri’s offensive line is intact and playing at a high level. The Tigers rank second in the SEC in rushing at 239.3 yards per game and boast arguably the conference’s best wide receivers, headlined by seniors L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas along with sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham.
“Last year, we got hit with a wrecking ball, but this year everybody’s healthy when James went down,” Maty said.
Surrounded by such talent, Mauk won’t be asked to carry the burden alone against Florida.
“He’s got a lot of good people around him and, if all those people step up their game a little bit, that’s going to help your quarterback,” Pinkel said.
Of course, Mauk hopes for a better ending than his last start when he threw an interception against Norwayne on the final play of his high school career, a 48-42 loss.
There’s no doubt, Florida, which ranks in the top 10 in the nation in almost every defensive category and boasts NFL-caliber talent, will be a massive step up from Norwayne, but Mauk has embraced the challenge.
It’s his team and his time now, but that’s why he came to Missouri in the first place.
“I hate that James is hurt, everybody does,” Mauk said, “but I’m just filling his spot until he’s back and I’m going to give everything I have every day, every chance I get. I’m going to be ready come Saturday.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.