Seven years ago, Maty Mauk was merely a 170-pound freshman quarterback at Kenton High School in Ohio, getting pummeled by Coldwater’s relentless pass rush in his varsity debut.
“At least every other play, I got hit … ” Mauk said. “That was probably the sorest I’ve ever been in my life. I remember walking into the training facility with cuts, blood and bruises all up and down my arms.
“I just told myself, ‘It’s a different ballgame, and I’ve got to do a little more to keep that from happening.’”
After that 58-19 loss and two others, Mauk honed his big-play instincts and his team won seven in a row. Kenton put up a better record in each of Mauk’s next three seasons, culminating with an Ohio Division IV state championship appearance.
(This story is part of The Kansas City Star's Football 2015 special section that publishes Sunday, Aug. 30. Pick one up and check out more here.)
“It was that freshman year when he really started to realize how good he could be as far as never giving up on a play and making something happen out of nothing,” his older brother, Ben Mauk, said. “He flipped the field probably two or three times with plays down the field that you’d be impressed if a senior quarterback made … That’s when it was like, ‘Here we go. This is going to be the start of something big.’”
Now a 200-pound college junior, Maty Mauk looks to replicate that upward trajectory.
Mauk’s creativity, especially when a play breaks down, is part of his winning aura. He’s 14-4 as a starter at Missouri and has been part of two Southeastern Conference division champions. But even Mauk says this about improvisation: “Sometimes, it will get me in trouble, too.”
This offseason, coaches have emphasized better decision-making from Mauk and have set goals for more completions. The MU offense needs him to deliver as the Tigers’ primary playmaker this year.
“I kind of got in the situation last year where things might’ve been breaking down and I tried to make too many plays,” Mauk said. “You’re going to see me step up in the pocket and deliver … on plays that I probably would’ve spun out and threw deep.”
Maty Mauk made “Mauktober” look easy.
As a redshirt freshman quarterback stepping in for injured starter James Franklin, Mauk helped guide Missouri to three wins in his four-game debut as a college starter in 2013.
On the first play of his first start against Florida, Mauk ignited Memorial Stadium’s Homecoming crowd with a 41-yard completion to L’Damian Washington, delivering a touchdown on the next play.
A double-overtime loss to South Carolina followed, but Mauk carved up Tennessee for 114 rushing yards with three passing touchdowns.
During Mauk’s final start, his first on the road, he matched the MU single-game record with five touchdown passes at Kentucky.
“When he was growing up, he was always around the game and always playing and always competing,” said his father, Mike Mauk, who also was Maty’s head coach in Kenton. “Right through midget football, then middle school up through high school, where he played all four years varsity, he was making plays for us ever since he started playing football.”
Franklin returned to start Mizzou’s final four games, but it’s no stretch to say that Mauk, who helped blunt Georgia’s comeback bid during the game in which Franklin was injured, saved MU’s breakout 2013 season from going off the rails.
Delirious fans dubbed Mauk’s stretch of starts against the heart of a rugged SEC schedule “Mauktober,” and in so doing gave birth to something of a cult hero.
Mauk began his sophomore season, his first as Mizzou’s full-time starter, like his signature mullet was on fire.
During a sizzling four-game stretch to start 2014, Mauk completed 77 of 125 passes — a 61.6 completion percentage — for 978 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. Against Toledo, he again matched the school single-game record for passing touchdowns.
But Mauk didn’t throw any touchdowns in Missouri’s first three conference games, against South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, completing a meager 27 of 73 passes — fewer than 37 percent — for 249 yards with five interceptions.
He bottomed out by completing just six of 18 passes for 20 yards against the Gators.
“There were times we didn’t execute well,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “I’ll just say it the way it is.”
That starts with Mauk.
The Tigers also had pass-protection issues last season, and Mauk was hampered by a shoulder injury during the last half of the season that required numbing injections before games and during halftime.
He still threw for 2,648 yards and 25 touchdowns, which were more in one season than any MU quarterback other than Chase Daniel, as Missouri repeated as SEC East Division champion, won 11 games and thrashed Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl.
That didn’t stop critics from decrying Mauk’s struggles, taking personal shots on social media and calling for his benching.
“We didn’t play well and, rightfully so, we took heat,” Henson said. “It is what it is, but Maty never blinked. Man, he never blinked. The guy’s just got a winning spirit about him. I think that’s his biggest attribute as a player.”
Nobody knows better than Mauk that he must improve for Missouri to have any shot at another SEC East division crown. That is especially true given Missouri’s youth on offense.
Only one scholarship wide receiver, senior Wesley Leftwich, has been with the Tigers more than two seasons, and eight of Missouri’s 11 scholarship receivers are true or redshirt freshmen.
Missouri also lacks experienced depth behind senior Russell Hansbrough at running back, so the offense, more than ever, is looking to Mauk.
“He’s definitely our playmaker,” redshirt freshman wide receiver DeSean Blair said. “He knows what he has to do and has been running the system for a while. He’s teaching us a lot of the time and we all have confidence in him, so he’s the engine that makes us go.”
It’s an engine the Tigers tuned up during the offseason.
Associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Andy Hill learned ball-placement and footwork drills from Chiefs quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson last winter. The drills are designed to help Mauk (and the rest of the Tigers’ quarterbacks) deliver the ball on time and in the correct spot.
Hill and Henson are on record as saying that if Mauk’s completion percentage — 53.4 percent last season and only 48.9 percent in SEC play — doesn’t surge above 60 percent, it will be disappointing.
Mauk spent hours this summer talking with his brother Ben, who played at Wake Forest and Cincinnati, about reading defenses. Mauk also took every chance to meet with MU’s staff to delve deeper into the offense.
“We’re just talking, but that’s what I need the most,” Mauk said. “With experience, that’s going to bring my game to another level. It’s helped a lot so far.”
At Ben’s urging, Mauk compiled a video cutup of all of his interceptions and incompletions, then studied the mistakes for ways to improve.
“The little things, when you play … the good people you play in our league, they become a big thing,” Henson said. “Your route being 6 inches off or the throw being 6 inches off or your hands too wide in protection, whatever it is, that makes a difference in winning and losing a play. That’s what we’ve been working on.”
Missouri’s coaches are reticent to heap added pressure on Mauk publicly, saying he doesn’t need to be more of a playmaker than in seasons past.
Nonetheless, the Tigers are tweaking their offense — which saw its scoring output dip from 39.1 to 27.8 points per game last season and total offense plunge by more than 1,700 yards — to better match Mauk’s skill-set. For instance, expect to see more designed quarterback runs.
“You call plays where you can run or pass,” Hill said. “There’s a few more of those in the offense, where he can get on the edge and see things in front of him, then take off if it’s not there.”
Now, it’s up to Mauk to put those components together with the experience he gained last season and be more consistent.
“It’s not like I have to go out there and make something happen every play … ” Mauk said. “If we’ve got to take 5- and 10-yard passes all the way down the field, that’s what I’m gonna do. It’s not really against my nature, but it’s not something I’ve really done a lot of, because I’m used to trying to make those big plays.
“This year, if there’s a guy open, I want to get the ball out quick. I’m not necessarily taking those extra chop steps and hanging onto the ball. … We’ve been doing a lot of stuff, working on timing and making sure that that ball’s coming out, and those guys can make plays, too.”
The Maty Mauk file
▪ Mauk was a first-team All-Ohio Division IV selection as a sophomore, junior and senior at Kenton (Ohio) High School — where he played for his dad, Mike. He was the Division IV offensive player of the year as a junior and senior in addition to being chosen Mr. Ohio Football in 2011.
▪ He racked up 7,181 total yards and 92 touchdowns as a senior, completing 382 of 566 passes for 5,413 yards with 68 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He added 1,768 yards and 24 touchdowns in 241 carries.
▪ Mauk graduated as the National Federation of State High School Associations’ all-time national leader in career passing yards (18,929), passing touchdowns (219), completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681).
▪ He was the Ohio Gatorade football player of the year as a junior and senior and capped his career with All-America honors from Sports Illustrated and Parade magazine.
▪ More important to Mauk, his Kenton teams went 42-8, including three Western Buckeye Conference crowns and an appearance in the 2011 Ohio Division IV state championship game.
▪ During the last two years, Mauk is 14-4 as a starter at Missouri, including last season’s 11-3 campaign that included an SEC East division title and a Citrus Bowl victory.
▪ Mauk also went 3-1 in 2013 as a redshirt freshman, stepping into the starting role when James Franklin suffered a separated shoulder at Georgia.