Missouri is now Maty Mauk’s team.
Mauk, a sophomore quarterback, started four games last season when starting quarterback James Franklin suffered a shoulder injury, but there was little doubt then that the Tigers still marched to Franklin’s beat.
Only eight practices into spring football, Mauk has put an indelible and undeniable stamp on the 2014 season.
“Maty is our guy,” said senior wide receiver Darius White, who has emerged as the heir apparent to L’Damian Washington on the outside opposite Dorial Green-Beckham. “Everybody’s still competing for a spot and it’s still up in the air, but the way I see it, Maty’s our guy.”
On the eve of Missouri’s first spring scrimmage Saturday at Memorial Stadium, coach Gary Pinkel made his strongest declaration yet that Mauk will be the Tigers’ next starting quarterback.
“Obviously, clearly right now, Maty’s our No. 1,” said Pinkel, who until now had beaten the drum that the quarterback spot — like all positions — was an open competition.
Mauk guided the Tigers to a 3-1 record when Franklin was sidelined last season. He completed 68 of 133 passes for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions as a redshirt freshman.
Still, on and off the field, Mauk’s demeanor was deferential to Franklin during a 12-2 season that included an SEC East division championship and a victory in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
Mauk doesn’t defer to anyone these days.
“People have talked to me and I’m ready to accept that (leadership role),” Mauk said. “Whatever I have to do to make this team as good as we can be, I’m ready to do.”
The signs are clear that Mauk is increasingly comfortable as the new face of Missouri football, allowing his at-times quirky personality to shine through as he also takes charge in the huddle.
“He’s definitely different than James,” said senior left tackle Mitch Morse, who is moving from right to left tackle. “He doesn’t care what people think about him. He’ll say some weird stuff and he kind of gets us fired up, but he’s commanding. You might not see it, but he commands the offensive line. He says stuff with authority.”
Mauk is quicker to crack a joke or say something off color — “(Former offensive lineman) Max (Copeland) is gone, so I’ve got to get these guys fired up a little bit,” he said — but he’s also more likely to rip into a teammate, too.
“James was a quieter style quarterback, but Maty is more vocal,” junior center Evan Boehm said. “He’s certainly not afraid to step up and say something. He gets on to us if we don’t make a block. He gets on to a wide receiver if he doesn’t make a catch. That’s something you like to see out of your quarterback. He just has a little fire underneath himself and inside himself.”
As the Aug. 30 opener against South Dakota State draws closer, Mauk is expected to show that fire even more as his confidence and leadership stature continue to grow.
“He had those 4 1/2 games and it was huge for him to step into a spot like he did,” Boehm said, “but it’s going to be really fun and really special to see what he does starting game one and moving on from there,”
Of course, to hear Mauk tell it, he’s not satisfied with any of it yet.
“I’m approaching it as I’m five (on the depth chart),” Mauk said, “but at the same time I’m going with the ones and focused on us getting the offense to play as fast and as good as we can get in these 15 practices.”
Missouri’s coaches are thrilled with Mauk’s progress so far.
“The one thing about playing quarterback — whoever’s in the driver’s seat, whoever’s the starter at quarterback, he always has snappier answers,” associate head coach and quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. “He’s got more confidence. He plays that way. I think that that’s been true for (Mauk) this spring.”
Mauk is continuing to refine his mechanics and hone his accuracy, working on ball placement and footwork. He’s also focused on making more plays from the pocket and already has noticed a massive change from last spring.
“I’m more confident,” Mauk said. “I’m not taking my time going through these reads as much. They’re going through my mind so fast now that I don’t even realize it. The ball’s coming out so quick. That’s helped us get better every day. It could be scary how good we could get if we keep building every day and everybody buys into what we’re doing.”