SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The 2015 Missouri football season forever will be remembered for the protests, the boycott, the retirement. Swept away from the headlines that fall was the quarterback who unraveled and then disappeared.
Whatever happened to Maty Mauk?
He burst onto the scene like a spark to kindling, caught fire and won like no Mizzou quarterback in a generation. As quickly as Mauk arrived, he burned out with the same ferocity. Here … then gone. In a span of 121 days, the Mizzou quarterback with the best winning percentage this century was suspended three times and ultimately dismissed after a three-year-old video mysteriously went viral and sabotaged his career.
But it didn’t ruin his life. Not even close.
“I can’t sit back and play ‘what if, what if, what if?’” Mauk said in a rare interview this week. “I had to move on. I was never the type who was like that. But I wish I could take it back and change people’s perspective of me.”
It’s a Monday in Springfield as Mauk sits over a plate of street tacos to talk about his new life here in the southwest corner of the state. He’s 26, happily married, in the best shape of his life and juggling three careers at once. He owns a sports performance training center where he works with kids of all ages. He’s a defensive assistant coach under his dad, Mike Mauk, at Glendale High.
While his players are in class, Mauk works as a real estate agent, scrambling from property to property in a 20-mile radius around Springfield. The listings keep him busy, but football always is on the brain. The town’s public schools never have won a state championship. He wants to change that.
“To be honest, I want to build something down here, like my dad did back in Ohio,” he said.
The mullet and scraggly beard are gone. Mauk wears his hair short, his beard neatly trimmed. His upper body and arms pop out of his Nike golf shirt. Two years ago his professional career lasted only a few days in Canada, but he stays in shape just in case the phone rings. Yes, he’s heard from the XFL.
“I’ve had some people contact me about it, but you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m in the best shape of my life. I feel better than I ever have. I’m stronger. Shoulders are good.”
His blue eyes are clear and focused. The quarterback last seen in Columbia is but a ghost. At 26, Mauk looks refreshed and younger.
“I feel younger,” he said. “I feel good.”
This week marked four years since Mauk last played a game for Mizzou, a place that’s in his past but not buried and not the least bit forgotten.
Over an hour-long interview, Mauk rattles off the dates of milestone moments from his turbulent times in Columbia, from the day he verbally committed (July 7, 2011) to his final day in the program (Jan. 28, 2015). He begins at least a dozen sentences saying, “I’ll never forget …”
Two years ago he married his college girlfriend, Danielle Colombatto, a former Mizzou Golden Girl from O’Fallon, Mo. But other than former coach Gary Pinkel, Mauk barely keeps in touch with most of the people from his time at MU. If he’s still bitter at the program, he hides it well.
Mauk hopes the team “gets rings and hangs up banners” under Barry Odom, the coach who kicked him off the team before ever coaching a game. He’s made peace with Mizzou and his past. Has he forgiven himself? That’s uncertain.
In 2012, Mauk came to Mizzou from Kenton, Ohio, where he played for his dad and set the national career passing records for yards and touchdowns. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, he earned cult hero status going 3-1 as a fill-in starter for injured James Franklin. In his fourth start, he tied MU’s single-game team record with five touchdown passes. As the full-time starter in 2014, Mauk led Missouri to 11 wins and a second straight Southeastern Conference East title.
The next summer, as Mauk prepared for his junior season, Mike Mauk, who had moved from Ohio to Springfield, was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. The threads in Mauk’s life started to unspool. He considered leaving Mizzou to be with his family. That fall, after MU’s fourth game, Mauk failed a drug test for marijuana.
“I was dealing with my dad’s (illness), and I wasn’t using that as an excuse and … I (used marijuana) a couple times,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. It was stupid. But I wasn’t worried about my well-being. I was trying to keep my mind off other stuff.”
At the time, Mike Mauk, whose cancer is now in remission, was consumed with his treatment in Springfield.
“The thing that disappoints me the most was … I was not able to be as involved or active in all the things that were going on,” Mike said, “where I could have maybe stepped in and intervened.”
Mauk missed the next four games. Shortly after Pinkel reinstated him, Mauk was involved in an incident at a downtown bar, a night he says was “blown way out of proportion.” He joined a couple of teammates and a Mizzou basketball player for a teammate’s birthday.
“I hadn’t been drinking,” Mauk said. “A guy started yelling. I’ll never forget it, because if I was an immature kid I would have done something about it. He said, ‘You’re going down just like your dad.’ Just typical drunk kid stuff. I never reacted. One of the basketball guys said something. There was video of that, but that video never came out of me walking away being the bigger person.”
On Nov. 1, Mauk was immediately put back on suspension. He didn’t think that was fair but sat out the rest of the season.
On game days, older brother Ben Mauk would drive up from Springfield each Saturday and take Maty to Tolton High School, where they’d throw passes on the field.
“I couldn’t watch” Mizzou play, he said.
The next few weeks were volatile — but not for Mauk. The team’s African-American players briefly boycotted all team activities to support protests on campus, after which Pinkel announced he’d been diagnosed with lymphoma and planned to retire at season’s end.
It was the only thing Mauk relished about his suspension. He was out of sight, out of mind for the program’s darkest days.
“That was really a strange situation,” Mauk said. “To be honest, I’m glad I wasn’t around. It’s not that (the boycott) was something I didn’t care about, but there was a lot of extra stuff going on and it all could have been handled differently. That would have been a tough spot to be in because no matter what you say you’re in the wrong.”
Mauk didn’t re-enter the picture until after Odom was hired in December. With Odom and new coordinator Josh Heupel came a third chance for Mauk. They said he’d compete with Drew Lock for the starting job.
“I’ll never forget that first day (under Odom),” Mauk said. “I met him in his office and he gave me a hug and said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to get you the ball back.’ I was excited. I was excited to get Heupel in there… . I felt like I was more of a true spread quarterback. Get the ball out and run around. So I was excited.”
Not for long. Weeks later, it all came crashing down.
On Jan. 28, Mauk crashed his pickup truck just outside the team facility. He injured his shoulder and suffered a concussion. A friend from a local body shop discovered Mauk’s brakes had been damaged, Mauk said. He suspected someone might have done it on purpose but never reported the incident to police. Then, later that day, Mauk received a private message on Facebook that he’s never deleted. The words still haunt him: “Tomorrow’s going to be a rough day for you.”
“Within 30 minutes,” Mauk said, “that video came out.”
That video was a 9-second clip of a younger Mauk bent over a line of white powder. He pretends to snort the powder, holds his nose and yells. An anonymous parody Twitter account posted the video. To this day, Mauk doesn’t know who filmed him or who posted the clip. Mauk said he never actually snorted the substance, which he said was ecstasy, not cocaine. The video was taken during his freshman year, Mauk said.
“I was stupid and coming from a small town,” he said. “You’ve got all these people that want to see you, want to talk to you, want to be with you. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time… . Everybody makes mistakes, but mine were all over TV and the Internet.”
Mizzou immediately suspended Mauk that night and dismissed him from the team three days later. Rock bottom?
“Oh yeah,” he said. “The thing is I was in a good spot. I felt good. I was excited. I felt like everything was in the past. Then I was right back to the bottom.”
The video portrayed an image and spawned a reputation that Mauk says never was accurate. He didn’t abuse drugs, he said. He was never an addict. He drank. He occasionally smoked pot. He wasn’t into hard drugs.
“It’s not like I was (drinking and smoking) every day,” he said. “There was a lot going on with multiple players, multiple athletes. I don’t want to go down that road … But with all the pressure, I needed to get away and relax.
“It was never to where I felt like I had a problem or other people felt like I had a problem, at least the people who truly know me. Everybody else was saying this or that on tweets or message boards saying, ‘Mauk is this, Mauk is that.’”
Like, a cokehead?
“Yeah, and they don’t know me,” he said. “That (video) was a one-time thing and I didn’t even do it. I was putting on a show and acted like I did it. But in our world, the first thing that’s out about you, that’s who you are. It upset me that people didn’t really know me.”
“I was doing the same things as everyone else and probably not to their extent,” he added. “I’d go out after a game and have a couple drinks. But it’s not like I’d say, ‘It’s Thursday night. Let’s go get drunk!’”
Looking back, Mike Mauk said he has “no animosity” toward anyone involved in Maty’s troubles at Mizzou but said “people created things that weren’t reality.”
“Having lived with him his whole life up until he left for Mizzou, I knew where his foundation was,” Mike said. “I knew where he was as a person. I’m not saying he was perfect. But I knew he had a good, strong core value system that he was raised with. He had strong character.”
With one year of eligibility remaining, Mauk resurfaced at Eastern Kentucky, where he reunited with coach Mark Elder, who had recruited him to Cincinnati. Mauk played in two games before suffering a concussion and a season-ending shoulder injury. He underwent surgery that fall, trained for the NFL draft under former pro quarterback Jay Fiedler and landed a contract with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. After a few days with the team Mauk blew out his shoulder throwing a deep post pattern.
“My shoulder popped,” he said. “I couldn’t throw the ball 10 yards.”
He was cut. Life was just getting started.
Later that summer, Maty and Danielle got married. As they were filling out invitations, she wondered why he wasn’t inviting many Mizzou teammates. He’d lost touch with most of them. Former MU tight end Eric Waters coaches with Mauk at Glendale. Former O-lineman Anthony Gatti is a close friend, also wideout Jake Brents.
“I found out who my true friends were,” Mauk said.
Pinkel suspended Mauk twice, but he texts or talks to his former coach every few months. Pinkel’s cancer returned this year.
“He’s a fighter,” Mauk said. “I know he’ll get through it.”
After moving to Springfield, Mauk started flipping houses with a local realtor, who suggested he pursue his real estate license. He soon joined brother Ben on Mike’s coaching staff. Last year, Mauk discovered an empty warehouse attached to the Deliverance Temple Ministries church on West Chestnut Expressway on the northwest part of town. That’s where he opened Higher Power Athletics, a training center for young athletes.
At just 26, Mauk has a lifetime of experiences to pass along to the next generation.
“The kids flock to him,” Mike said.
This is the first season since he left Mizzou that Mauk has watched the Tigers closely. He misses the games. He misses the adrenaline rush of Saturdays. Over lunch, he brought up the 2014 win over Arkansas, the game that clinched MU’s second straight SEC title. He got an injection in his shoulder before the game, Mauk said. Otherwise he might not have been able to complete the 44-yard pass to Jimmie Hunt to set up the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“It was awesome to help get Mizzou back to that winning feeling,” he said. “Packed stadium no matter who you’re playing. I wished it would have stayed that way.”
Mauk was 17-5 as the Tigers’ starter before things fell apart. He had some help from some of the school’s great defenses, but Mauk’s winning percentage of .773 is the best of any quarterback since Pinkel took over in 2001. Better than Chase Daniel (.750), Franklin (.710), Blaine Gabbert (.692), Brad Smith (.521) and Lock (.457).
He’s been called a lot of things since he left Mizzou. Mauk hopes he’s remembered differently.
“A winner, a competitor,” he said. “Look, I would have done anything for the school, the program, for the state, to bring them a winning culture and bring home a winner.
“I don’t want people to look at Mizzou as a team that only won in the SEC two years or that they don’t belong. I want them to get rings and hang up banners.”
TIME TO RETURN?
Watching from afar, Mauk’s happy to see Odom reviving the program. He’s returned to campus the last couple of summers with Glendale’s team for Mizzou’s 7-on-7 camps. He’d like to make it back for a game. He’s ready.
“I don’t look at it like Mizzou screwed me,” he said. “I put myself in that spot. And I’ll always call Mizzou home. I’d love to go back and be part of it all.”