HOOVER, Ala. — When former Missouri quarterback James Franklin sprained his shoulder in October, the Tigers' fate was placed in the hands of redshirt freshman Maty Mauk.
A season later — with experience and confidence instilled from being thrown into the fire — Mauk is primed to become the starter. And he should probably send thank you cards to the Florida Gators before the season kicks off.
Although Mauk came off the bench against Georgia in the fourth quarter last season and helped secure a victory, it was his performance in a starting role against the Gators that changed everything.
He led the Tigers on a two-play, 76-yard opening drive to give Missouri a 7-0 lead and supreme confidence for him and his teammates.
"They had that confidence in me to go deep that first play (41 yards) and throw a touchdown with (27) seconds against the third-ranked defense in the country," Mauk said Wednesday during his appearance at SEC media days. "That's something big, and that's when things really started to slow down for me. Late in the game, some things went wrong, I threw an interception, but I learned from that. But the game really slowed down for me against Florida and that's when I got better."
Mauk had four starts at midseason during which he went 3-1 (a double OT loss to South Carolina). Now all eyes are on Mauk, the undisputed starter, to see if he can help the Tigers repeat as SEC East champions.
He's hoping he can be for the Tigers what Johnny Manziel was for Texas A&M.
"I think he's one of, if not the, best college football players to ever play," Mauk said. "That's somebody that I want to not actually be like, but I can model my game after him. He can turn anything into something. … He can change a game so quick by being able to make plays. And that's something I feel like I can do, that I have to do. He's someone I can look to. I watch him on film all the time. He's a great player, and someone I'm going to try to play like."
Coach Gary Pinkel said Tigers players have a lot of confidence in Mauk. For good reason.
Mauk appeared in 13 of 14 games and passed for 1,071 yards. He also rushed for 229 yards while earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team.
"Maty's a playmaker," said Missouri junior center Evan Boehm. "He's done a great job and I'm excited to see what he'll do when he's got the ball in his hands all year long."
He's already eased into his most important role: team leader.
"I think he's a very natural leader, Pinkel said. "… First of all, he's got a great work ethic. He's a winner. Players know it. He's a remarkable competitor. They know it. They respect the way he leads because he leads in a very, very positive way. We're very fortunate to have a young player like him. That's why he did so well last year when we threw him in there as a freshman. There's a reason guys are like that. We're very fortunate to have him. Certainly if you ask him, he's got a lot of things to prove, too. He's the guy now. But I guarantee there's no one more excited about getting going and playing than that guy."
Contact Antonya English at email@example.com. Follow@TBTimes_Gators.