The most popular kid in Kenton, Ohio, drove a minivan.
Maty Mauk would drive it to a movie theater. He’d take it to a restaurant. He’d drive it anywhere he went with his friend, Drey Dearing.
It is Dearing’s dad’s minivan. Dearing has muscular dystrophy and is wheelchair-bound. The vehicle is specially outfitted for him.
Maty and Dearing first met in elementary school. They became close when Dearing’s father asked Mike Mauk, Maty’s father and the football coach at Kenton High School, if Dearing could be a ball boy at Kenton football games.
Mike said yes, and Dearing was joined on the sidelines by fellow ball boy Maty, who had been holding post at Wildcat games from the second he could throw the football.
Dearing watched as Maty’s older brother, Ben Mauk, broke the national high school record for career passing yards and pass completions. Then he watched Maty break the records himself eight years later.
Dearing and Maty send texts back and forth, occasionally. Recently, though, Dearing said, Maty has been “kind of busy.”
He’s preparing for his first season as Mizzou’s starting quarterback.
No longer the gunslinging backup tossed into the mix amid an at-the-time perfect season and Southeastern Conference competition, Mauk is now “The Guy.”
“He’s a winner. The players know it,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s a leader. The players know it.”
Dearing will make the 75-minute trip north of Kenton to Toledo in September — likely in that same minivan — to watch Mizzou take on the Rockets during Week 2.
He has been to one of Maty’s other college games, against Indiana. Maty didn’t play in that game. He was just a backup.
“I’m just excited to see him finally start in college,” Dearing said. “I know what he’s capable of doing.”
A Born Leader
What is Maty Mauk capable of?
Stats from last season show he can run for over 100 yards against Tennessee, throw five touchdowns against Kentucky and break off two consecutive big runs against Oklahoma State before arcing a pass over a cornerback’s outstretched arm to Marcus Lucas for a touchdown in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
"They still got to get me out," Maty told his brother.
Those closest to him say he’s ready for this moment, this season.
They say he has always been a leader.
When Maty’s mother Gwyn Mauk would take Maty to the park, she’d look out and see a game being organized, her son directing the other children.
“Always, since he was little, he’d be the guy in charge,” Gwyn said.
When a young Ben had to go door-to-door selling coupon cards to fundraise for the Kenton football team, Maty would go with him. By the end of the day, Maty would be the one knocking on doors, fundraising for a team he wasn’t even on.
“However many I could get from my dad, he could sell them,” Ben said.
When Maty was in seventh grade, he traveled to a 7-on-7 tournament in Virginia with his oldest brother Jonathan Mauk, who was coaching the Kenton junior varsity squad while home from college (Taylor University in Indiana, where he played linebacker) for the summer.
Jonathan told the story as though he was speaking in tongues, his voice rising with excitement as he discussed Maty shining among the high schoolers.
“When he got in there, he just took charge like he was one of the guys,” Jonathan said.
It’s brash confidence. The same type Maty displayed in his first organized baseball game, when he hit a routine single to right field, rounded first and kept running.
“They still got to get me out,” he told Jonathan.
Maty Mauk’s career arc is a coach’s son stereotype to the utmost degree.
Football dominated family life, even if Gwyn said her husband “wasn’t allowed to let (his sons) have it for their mistakes when they came home for Friday night.”
“Football is always a part of the conversation,” Jonathan said. “No matter where you’re at. That’s what we live, eat and sleep, is football.
“We live and die for football, that’s what we do as Mauks.”
In small-town Kenton, Ohio, Maty’s youth league teams ran his father’s pass-heavy offense, which meant he knew how to operate an aerial attack when most kids were still working on their spirals.
“You don’t see many (people) go five-wide in fifth grade,” Jonathan said.
Maty watched Ben shine as a four-year starting quarterback for Kenton, winning two state championships. Then Maty started at quarterback for four years, with his brother as one of Kenton’s assistant coaches.
“Maty only got the runner-up,” Ben Mauk said. “So I still have that on him.”
In Maty’s first high school football game, the Wildcats went against Coldwater High School, the defending state champions.
Kenton lost 58-19. Maty was 19-39 for 198 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Despite the loss, Chuck Moore, the then-defensive backs coach for the Wildcats, said by the end of the game, the freshman quarterback was already looked to as a leader, just like he’d always been growing up.
“He went in with the attitude of 'Who are these guys?'” Moore said. “Maty took a second seat to no one.”
So it came as no surprise to Gwyn that her son looked up to the challenge when he stepped onto the field in the fourth quarter of Mizzou’s game against Georgia last year.
Mauk was throwing out of five-wide receiver sets in fifth grade.
The Mauks traveled to all of Mizzou’s games last season, and will do the same this season. Gwyn was standing in the shade of the Sanford Stadium endzone when Maty came into the game for an injured James Franklin.
“I could tell by his demeanor that he was ready to go,” Gwyn said.
Maty ran for seven yards on his first play, a third-down call that was just enough to move the chains. Then a Henry Josey run got Mizzou nine yards. On Maty’s third play, he passed to Bud Sasser as part of a designed double pass. Sasser threw the football over forty yards to L’Damian Washington.
“I was more nervous than him,” Gwyn said.
The next week, before Mizzou took the field against Florida in what would be Maty’s first college start, the quarterback told his friend, junior center Evan Boehm, “I’m not a good practice player, but I mean, I’ll learn my stuff and I’ll get it done. But when I get into the game I’ll be a playmaker.”
Boehm didn’t know what Maty meant.
Mizzou scored in two plays on its opening drive. Twenty seconds, two Maty throws, one touchdown.
“Oh, I finally get what Maty was talking about,” Boehm thought.
A Constant Competitor
Maty Mauk started with racoons, before he was a teenager. Then rabbits, then squirrels. Turkey and deer followed — a natural progression.
Maty would tag along with Moore when the assistant coach would go hunt on his friends’ farms in Kenton.
Hunting was something that separated Maty from his two older brothers. They were obsessive about football. Moore said that Ben and Jonathan never left school, because they always felt the need to practice; football was “their entire life.”
But even when he was away from the game, Maty always competed. How many deer could he bag? How heavy?
When Maty left the football field, the drive didn’t leave him.
“Maty loved football, but whatever Maty was doing at the present time was most important to Maty,” Moore said. “If Maty was playing checkers, he had to win at checkers.”
Maty has only ever known winning, really. He went 42-8 in high school; 25-3 in his last two years. He was a Parade All-American and a Sports Illustrated All-American. He was a two-time Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year. In his first year contributing to the Tigers, they won the Cotton Bowl.
But the personnel around Maty this season will be different. Washington and Lucas have graduated. Dorial Green-Beckham is out, too. Just with that group, Maty completed just over 51 percent of his passes last year.
In Missouri’s last two training camp scrimmages this summer, Maty was 12-31 combined.
Maty’s new receivers, seniors Jimmie Hunt, Darius White and Sasser, combined for fewer catches last season than Lucas and Green-Beckham each had. The new starting receivers are all shorter than each member of last year’s trio.
There will be no toss-it-up-and-see-what-happens security blanket.
“Everyone back in Ohio was asking those questions,” Ben said regarding his brother’s new receiving corps. “Maty always said they put some guys on the shelf last year. Losing Dorial is tough, but at the same time he’s excited about those other guys.”
Mike said his son is “continuing watching and seeing and continuing to learn.” The last time Maty was home, he and Ben watched film from Ben’s time as quarterback at Cincinnati. Maty peppered his brother with questions.
“I didn’t think he was at that level yet,” Ben said.
Maty has lofty goals. He wants his completion percentage to be around 70. He wants his play to model Johnny Manziel’s.
“Because I think I have the ability to do similar things,” Maty said. “And that’s what people expect from me back in Columbia.”
To feel expected to play like a Heisman Trophy winner could be a lot of pressure for Maty — if he felt it.
“He’s a coach’s son,” Gwyn said. “He’s ready to go.”