COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Growing up in Kenton, Ohio, Maty Mauk didn't know much about Missouri. But he got an offer to play quarterback for the Tigers, and decided to visit them during the Fourth of July weekend in 2011.
Five hundred miles later, he knew where he wanted to attend college.
"When I came on that first visit, it was a lot different than the other ones," Mauk said Monday. "Here I knew it was about my best chance to grow as a man, a football player and to get me ready to play at this level, the next level, whatever it may be."
Three years later, the 6-feet, 195-pound sophomore is set to become No. 24 Missouri's full-time starter against South Dakota State on Saturday. He won't be taking snaps without experience, though. Mauk finished 3-1 as a starter in place of an injured James Franklin a year ago, a key development in the team's SEC East-winning season.
Mauk actually played in 13 of 14 games, completing 51 percent of his passes for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns. Two inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than Franklin, who was released Monday by the Detroit Lions, Mauk used his speed to elude defenders in the backfield and then find open receivers.
In addition to sporting a full reddish-brown beard and wavy locks of the same color, Mauk has matured off the field and improved his decision-making on it, teammates say, validating the quarterback's reasoning for coming to Missouri.
"He's still a goofball off the field, don't get me wrong," receiver Bud Sasser said. "But when we go out to the practice field, he's all ears and he's all ready to go."
Coach Gary Pinkel agreed, calling Mauk an "unthreatening leader."
"There's no question our players believe in him," Pinkel said. "I believe in him. He's just got to understand that he's got a lot of people around him who can help him do well. He doesn't have to do everything."
Mauk will need help from relatively inexperienced receivers compared to Franklin's arsenal of L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas. The three combined for 167 catches, 2,468 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, and all have departed.
Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White are expected to start in their place after tallying 55 receptions, 690 yards and three touchdowns last season. Despite all three players being seniors, the trio only has 16 combined starts, all of which belong to Sasser.
"I love them," Mauk said. "There's nobody I'd rather trade them for. It's not, 'We don't have guys.' We have guys who can play football and that's what you've got to do."
Mauk's first opponent will be South Dakota State from the FCS-level Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Jackrabbits finished 9-5 overall and 5-3 in conference last season, yielding 382 yards per game, including 219.5 through the air.
The team is facing an FBS opponent for the seventh consecutive year, but is still searching for its first win against one since moving to Division I in 2004.
Missouri created a lot of "self-inflicted wounds" in its three scrimmages during fall camp, offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. Fixing those mistakes will be the point of emphasis this week.
For his part, Mauk says the Tigers can't afford to overlook anyone. The quarterback has become more demanding of his teammates to consistently improve while also becoming more accountable for himself, running back Marcus Murphy said.
"He expects to be a winner," quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. "Having that mindset combined with the threat of being able to take off and run with the ball in his hands — that makes for a good combination. Hopefully he can complete more than 50 percent of his passes like he did last year."