Georgia’s Sanford Stadium was in full throat last October when Maty Mauk jogged into the Missouri huddle.
Mauk, then a redshirt freshman, had played a few series earlier in the season. But with starter James Franklin sidelined by a separated shoulder, the Tigers’ hopes rested on Mauk’s shoulders.
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs had whittled Missouri’s 18-point lead to two. Of course, Mauk’s willful 6-yard run on his first snap, a third-down play near midfield, stunted Georgia’s rally.
But the critical first down isn’t what Missouri junior center Evan Boehm remembers most.
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“Maty takes off, fighting for the first down and I see him pull down his helmet,” Boehm said.
After seeing the play again on film, Boehm approached Mauk, who had a confession.
“I wasn’t expecting to go in, so my helmet had no air in it,” Mauk told Boehm. “I got hit and my helmet popped off. I had to pull it down or the play’s dead and another quarterback would have to come in.”
Boehm laughed and it has been a running joke ever since, but Mauk’s preparation for the 2014 season is no joke.
“It’ll be a lot different,” Mauk said.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel made Mauk the starter after a strong spring. It was his job to lose after going 3-1 as a starter last season during Southeastern Conference play.
Still, the growth Mauk showed cemented his status as the new face of the Tigers and highlights his evolution from unprepared backup to one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC Eastern Division.
“He’s real prepared,” senior defensive end Markus Golden said Wednesday during the Tigers’ appearance at SEC Media Days. “He’s been working hard all summer. Every day you see him, he’s staying after. On off days, I go in there to work out and see him out there throwing routes to receivers.
“He’s preparing and I feel like, if you prepare like he does, you’ll be ready when the season comes.”
Mauk’s transition really started during those four games last season.
“By the end of the first half of the Florida game, it almost felt like high school again,” Mauk said. “It felt like I was going out there being Maty Mauk and not just trying to manage the game. I was going out there to win and put points on the board.”
That’s the flip side to Mauk’s 6-yard run, which extended a drive two plays before Bud Sasser’s double-pass touchdown to L’Damian Washington iced that upset at Georgia.
It offered a momentary insight into Mauk’s competitive desire, prepared or not.
“I warmed up, probably threw three or four balls, and went out there with no air in my helmet and a chinstrap that didn’t fit,” Mauk said. “You can actually see me pull the facemask back down with my other hand, but that play set the tone for what I wanted to be. I had to get that first down.”
Mauk is developing a connection with his receivers. He cited Darius White high-pointing a fade for a touchdown and Jimmie Hunt making a catch over a linebacker during seven-on-seven drills as examples of the building chemistry.
“If we can keep this up, it could be a great year for us again,” Mauk said. “I have to get these guys rallied behind me, because our offense — we’re going to be explosive. We have the playmakers to do it.”
Mauk told ESPN on Wednesday that he lost weight last week when he underwent treatment for a viral infection. Mauk’s father, Mike, confirmed Maty’s illness in a text to The Star and said he lost roughly 10 pounds. Mauk posted on Twitter that he’s no longer sick.
That’s good news for Missouri as so much still rests on the shoulders of Mauk, a 6-foot gunslinger from Kenton, Ohio. But Missouri’s coaches and players have no fear that he will deliver.
“Maty’s a very natural leader,” Pinkel said. “It’s not something where you have to say lead more or do more, say more. He’s not like that. He wasn’t like that in high school either. He’s a winner and very determined.”