|Quarterback for No. 20 Cincinnati has overcome devastating arm injury that left a scar|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 05 October 2007 08:51|
``I've thought I'd be somehow involved in churches, maybe being a youth pastor or a motivational speaker, something like that,'' he said.
This kid could give some speech.
The 22-year-old quarterback could tell crowds about how he came to the University of Cincinnati this season and helped its moribund football program become an overnight sensation.
He could rattle off the history - nationally ranked for the first time in 40 years, off to a 5-0 start for the first time in 53 years. He could tell of his personal accomplishments - Big East offensive player of the week for his four-touchdown performance last weekend against San Diego State.
Then, when the listeners have started to think it's all about football, Mauk could roll up his right sleeve and show them something that draws a gasp.
A long, ruddy scar is really his story.
It's shaped like the seams on a football - about as long, running the length of his biceps, with stitch marks alongside the half-inch-wide scar. It gives everyone a pause the first time they see it - it did for Mauk, too, when he saw it in the hospital room for the first time.
But that's getting ahead of the story.
It actually starts with a routine handoff late in the third quarter of Wake Forest's 20-10 season opener last year against Syracuse. Mauk turned back toward the line and saw the running back fumble.
The ball skittered toward Mauk, who instinctively dived and stretched his right arm to pull it in. At that moment, two Syracuse players dived onto Mauk while going for the ball.
He felt his passing shoulder pop out of place.
``The only thing I felt was the shoulder,'' Mauk said. ``I figured the trainers would come out, throw my shoulder back in place and I'd probably have to stretch it out and it would be OK. But they came out and looked at my arm. I was telling them my shoulder's hurt.''
The medical staff could see that the upper right arm was misshapen; the humerus was badly broken. The injury was even worse than the senior had suspected.
He left on a stretcher, perhaps for the last time as a player.
Doctors fixed the broken bone first. They inserted a plate with eight screws in the arm, cutting the length of the biceps to install it.
``When I woke up from surgery and they were taking the bandages off, I expected to see a small incision,'' Mauk said. ``Then I saw this, and it kind of shocked me.''
Next came surgery to tighten the shoulder with three metal anchors. Doctors left it a little looser than they normally do, giving Mauk more range of motion so he could try to make a comeback - though that seemed like wishful thinking.
He did his rehabilitation and cheered Wake Forest to its improbable Atlantic Coast Conference title, a worst-to-first finish that ended in a loss to Louisville in the Orange Bowl. Before the bowl game, Mauk returned to his home in Kenton, Ohio, where he was the state's 2002 Mr. Football.
Mauk was one of the nation's top passers at Kenton High School, playing for his father, Mike. The family was at the high school gym last December when he had a motivational moment.
He threw his first postoperative pass - to his mom.
``My dad kind of tossed me a ball and said, 'Let's see if you can do it,''' Mauk said. ``I didn't throw it but maybe 7 yards. He wasn't going to push me to get back, but once he saw me throw the ball and knew I wanted to get back, he pushed me to a different gear. It motivated me.''
That hesitant, hurtful throw was a turning point.
``Just seeing him go through that motion was almost a miracle in itself after what he'd been through,'' Mike Mauk said. ``It was kind of a moment where the light was turned on again. The opportunity was still there for him if he wanted to pursue his dream.''
Cincinnati gave him the chance.
First-year coach Brian Kelly was installing a no-huddle, spread offense like the one that Mauk ran in high school. Mauk enrolled for his graduate studies, and the Bearcats had a quarterback who knew the system but couldn't throw.
``I didn't know if I'd be able to play in the games,'' Mauk said. ``I knew I could help these other quarterbacks by mentoring them.''
A week before football camp started, Mauk was working out with some of his new teammates on UC's field. He decided to throw one deep and see what happened.
The pass looked good. The arm felt good. Mauk felt like a quarterback again.
``I threw a couple of passes deep down the field and I was like, 'Here we go. This is something I could do,''' Mauk said.
The arm got a little stronger every day. By the time the opener against Southeast Missouri State arrived, Mauk had won the starting job. The only question was whether the arm would hold up.
When he ran through the inflated, black tunnel at Nippert Stadium with the rest of the team, he and his family got choked up.
``I view it as a miracle,'' Mauk said. ``Just running out of the tunnel was exciting. My mom was crying just seeing me back on the field.''
It hasn't been entirely smooth. He had to sit out one game and parts of another because the shoulder got sore - evidently, the result of tearing scar tissue. He's getting the hang of how much he can do in practice.
``He overcomes a lot with the pain and the preparation and all the things he has to do,'' Kelly said. ``He has to do a lot more than most people just to get himself ready for Saturday.''
By last Saturday, Mauk felt so good he led the Bearcats to a 52-23 victory over San Diego State.
How can a quarterback with a plate, eight screws and three anchors in his arm play this well.
``I don't have an answer for that,'' Kelly said. ``He's just a kid that loves to play the game. That's what makes him special.''
Mauk wants to see how far he can take this second chance at a career. When it ends, he'll have quite a story to tell his audiences during those motivational speeches. If the words alone don't make an impact, he'll always have another way to get their attention.
``I've got the scar to show them, too,'' he said.
And the comeback that goes with it.