HOOVER, Ala. — Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk proved this week he's not ready to be a star in the Southeastern Conference, if only for one reason.
Upon arriving at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel for SEC media days, Mizzou's contingent had to summon a league staffer to the team's third-floor suite. The man had one assignment: Tie Mauk's bowtie.
Mauk hoped to flash some Southern style at his media days debut Wednesday - he watched a YouTube video to learn the intricacies of tying his new gold neckwear - but this time he needed help.
The redshirt sophomore figures to be better prepared for his christening this fall as an SEC starting quarterback.
His head coach is already convinced.
"Maty proved himself a year ago, that he can play at this level, at the highest level of all of college football," Gary Pinkel said. "Obviously we have to block for him, have to catch for him, run the ball, all the things you have to do to help the quarterback.
"But he loves to play. He loves to compete. He loves to win. That's evident when you watch him perform."
Pinkel typically brings seniors to conference media days - or at least established veterans who have earned the privilege to represent the program at the annual preseason swarm of cameras and tape recorders. But Mauk's arrival here Wednesday, along with junior center Evan Boehm and senior defensive end Markus Golden, signaled two truths: In a league with few established stars at the quarterback position, Missouri wanted to expose Mauk to the national spotlight that shines on Hoover. And two, he's quickly become a leader of the offense and a trusted ambassador for Pinkel's program - despite starting just four games last season for injured senior James Franklin.
"His leadership is very non-threatening," Pinkel said. "(Players) respect the way he leads because he leads in a very, very positive way."
Boehm has witnessed that this summer during voluntary workouts. While Boehm and the linemen do their drills on one end of the practice field, Mauk works with the receivers and running backs on the other end - but close enough for Boehm to watch his close friend take command.
"I hear Maty yelling and getting everyone up," he said. "That's exciting to hear."
Mauk went 3-1 against SEC teams last year in his midseason relief appearance. The lone defeat came in overtime, 27-24 to South Carolina. For the season, he completed only 51.1 percent of his throws - a mark, he said Wednesday, that was far too low for Mizzou's offense to succeed - but compensated some with a knack for big plays. His passing efficiency rating (143.1) was better than Franklin's and second only to former Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniel among Pinkel-coached quarterbacks in 13 seasons at MU.
Mauk has polished his mechanics this offseason and focused on getting the ball out of his hand quicker.
Last week, he worked as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., where he paid special attention to Peyton and Eli Manning's talks about leadership and huddle presence. The Tigers rarely, if ever, meet in a huddle, but Mauk was impressed when Peyton Manning, the five-time NFL MVP, took time to talk individually with each college QB attending the camp.
"I know he was trying to make everyone better," Mauk said. "He's a tremendous leader and someone to look up to."
On the field, Eli Manning shared a tip with Mauk that he's already used in 7-on-7 passing drills with his teammates. Before catching a shotgun snap, Manning stood with his left foot out in front of his right - the opposite alignment Mauk usually takes in the pocket. He tried the Manning way, giving him a better angle to scan the defense on his drop-back, and noticed instant results.
"The timing (in practice) was the best it's been," he said. "I know the guys could really see it."
This fall, Mauk won't have the luxury of working with Missouri's three leading receivers from last season, including Dorial Green-Beckham, who was dismissed from the team in April and since transferred to Oklahoma. Mauk spoke highly of MU's freshman receivers, notably 6-foot-3 Georgia native Nate Brown, while Pinkel said MU will tinker with new packages in preseason camp and put other players - tight ends and tailbacks - in positions to become receivers.
But, most important, the Tigers have identified their playmaker at the game's most critical position.
"I firmly believe if Maty was at any other school (last year) he could have been a starting quarterback," Boehm said. "He did a great job stepping up ... taking the reins in the Georgia game and leading us to a victory and then scoring in the (first) 20 seconds against Florida, who had the best secondary in the conference. Maty was just on fire that game, and you can just tell with each pass that he makes, his confidence goes up more and more and more."
As he toured the interview rooms Wednesday, Mauk was asked repeatedly about his likeness to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner who, like the 6-foot Mauk, doesn't fit the pocket passer archetype and can neutralize defenses with his speed. He gave a cold stiff-arm to the comparison. He'll earn his own SEC identity, with bowtie neatly looped and knotted.
"I'm not Maty Football," he said. "I'm Maty Mauk."