Homecoming king: Drake Maye’s rise to the big stage
The last time the UNC Tar Heels played in Bank of America Stadium was almost a year ago. Drake Maye, now one of the most talented college quarterbacks in the nation, played for less than a minute.
- Maye entered last December’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl with 47 seconds left, replacing record-breaking starter Sam Howell, and threw one incomplete pass and ran the ball on the final two plays of a 38-21 loss to South Carolina.
- It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for UNC, but it marked the start of a new era.
Nobody knew it at the time, including myself as I watched from the stands, but that game provided a moment of foreshadowing.
What’s happening: On Saturday, Maye, a born and raised Charlottean and former Myers Park High standout, will step on to field at Bank of America stadium again as the newly minted ACC Player of the Year.
- He’ll start for the Heels (9-3 overall, 6-2 ACC) as they take on the Clemson Tigers for a chance to win the ACC Championship at 8pm.
Why it matters: Maye, 20, is a key reason the Tar Heels are competing for the ACC title after last year’s embarrassing bowl defeat. A redshirt freshman, Maye is one of the most talked-about young quarterbacks in college football, and until recently, he was considered a potential Heisman finalist.
- It’s likely Maye will be a contender for the award next year. No player from any North Carolina school has ever won it. (Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, also of UNC, placed second in 1948 and 1949.)
By the numbers: Maye started all 12 regular season games for North Carolina and dominated.
- He threw for 3,847 yards, 35 touchdowns, had a 67.7 completion percentage, and only five interceptions.
- Maye also rushed for 629 yards and six touchdowns on 161 carries.
Fans and media may have been surprised by Drake’s performance this season. But his high school head coach, Scott Chadwick, was not.
“Don’t let the ‘aw, shucks, golly gee’ fool you into thinking he’s not an extremely confident young man,” said Chadwick, who’s now head coach at Clayton High School outside Raleigh. “I used to call him ‘the assassin’ because he was just kind of quiet, the kind of guy you wouldn’t expect, but you get on the field and he’ll light you up.”
Flashback: Maye also played varsity basketball for the Mustangs. And according to Chadwick, he was the team’s best player in the playoffs. But while playing quarterback for the Mustangs, Maye earned a four-star recruiting ranking.
- “I really enjoyed coaching him because I liked being around him,” Chadwick told me. “You could tell that no matter what we put in front of him that nothing was going to be too big for him.”
Maye initially committed to the University of Alabama, which has won four of the last 10 national championships.
- But both of his parents, Mark and Aimee, attended the UNC, and Mark was the school’s quarterback from 1983-1988.
- Maye’s older brother Luke played basketball there, helping the Tar Heels to the 2017 national championship.
Drake — the youngest, and at 6-foot-5, the shortest — of the four Maye brothers, visited his big brother Luke in school a lot.
And the football brass stayed in his ear. “Coach (Phil) Longo and Coach (Mack) Brown took full advantage of Drake being on campus a lot, and continued to recruit him,” Chadwick said.
- The program improved under the two coaches and Howell, the quarterback who hails from Indian Trail. Maye took note, and efforts to recruit him to play for UNC paid off when he de-committed from Alabama in March 2020.
Earlier this week, Maye was was not only honored as the league’s best player, he took home the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, and named to the ACC First Team. He’s also on several watchlists for national awards including the Manning Award, which recognizes college football’s top quarterback.
- For a while, there was serious buzz around Maye as a finalist for the Heisman.
- But despite the fact that Maye’s stats are comparable to this year’s betting favorites, UNC’s two late-season losses to Georgia Tech and N.C. State, both unranked, may have ruined his chances at a Heisman.
Still, those close to Drake know how badly he wants to win on Saturday, especially in his hometown.
“He knows what it’s like to lose and he doesn’t like it,” said Cole Maye, Drake’s second-oldest brother who won a national championship in baseball for the University of Florida. “When the chips are on the table, he’s gonna want come out on top.”
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