- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Maty Mauk has helped lead Missouri to back-to-back SEC East Division titles, and he might be the most talented quarterback in the conference.
Yet there are still critics.
Despite how well he's played under pressure, there are still those who have accused him of being too much of a gunslinger with double-digit interceptions last year and a completion percentage (53.4) among the worst in the SEC.
But Mauk doesn't care. He's got bigger things on his mind.
The Missouri quarterback arrived at SEC media days earlier this month with an extra sense of motivation. He wasn't talking about his bow tie like at last year's event. He was more serious, focused on the upcoming season and winning a third straight division crown.
Some might say it's because he's a year older, a year more mature. Others will tell you he's tired of finishing runner-up in the SEC. But if you ask Mauk, he'll tell you it's because he's playing for something bigger than football this season.
"My dad, he has a big influence on everything I do and who I am," Mauk said. "This is going to be one for him, for sure. I don't even want to talk about it to anybody. I just want to go out there and play. I don't need to tell you what I'm going to do. Just watch me. I'm going to do it.
"That's what I've got to say about that."
The story begins in a doctor's office where Mauk's father, Mike, went in for a routine colonoscopy early last month. They found a malignant tumor in his colon and diagnosed him with colorectal cancer. He began chemotherapy about a month later.
The news crushed Maty. He didn't believe it at first. He thought it was a bad dream.
"We're a very close family," Mike said. "We have four children, three boys and a girl, with Maty being the youngest. Our main function growing up was that we were always together. I think that it was real tough on him initially just as it was the other three kids and as well as my wife.
"But then once we realized what we were battling against, you regroup and you hold strong to your faith and who you believe in, and you're ready to face the situation."
Maty learned of the diagnosis on a Tuesday night and reached out to Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson. When he woke up the next morning at 6:30, he had eight missed calls from other coaches on staff, including Gary Pinkel, Andy Hill, Craig Kuligowski and Barry Odom. They were all calling to check on him.
It was the same for his teammates. He hadn't even told close friend Evan Boehm before both Boehm and his father reached out.
Even the Mizzou fans showed their support to Maty, his father and their family.
That's how it works at Missouri. The same thing happened when teammate Harold Brantley was involved in a serious car accident last month. Coaches, players and fans all reached out to support Brantley during a difficult time.
"When [Maty] was deciding on where to go to school, he had some very good options," Mike said. "When he began to weigh everything, the things we were just talking about was the main reason why he picked Missouri. It was Coach Pinkel, his staff, the 'Mizzou-made' attitude that's been so prevalent. They care about their players.
"Now I'm not saying that's not other places, don't get me wrong, but it just seemed to be a natural fit for Maty. That's where he felt most comfortable. That's where he felt he could play as an individual and as a part of a team.
"As I look back, there couldn't be a better place for him to be than where he's at right now."
Mike has been to all but one of his son's games at Missouri. And he hasn't forgotten the one he missed.
The former high school football coach, who spent 20 years in Ohio, took a job at Springfield (Missouri) Glendale last fall. Ironically, the game he missed was back in Ohio when Missouri played at Toledo. Mike couldn't find a flight Saturday that would get him to the stadium by noon, and he didn't have time to make the drive.
The streak might be in jeopardy again this fall. He's expected to go off the chemo toward the end of August so his body can recover in time for surgery in October. In the weeks leading up to the surgery, his plan is to still be at every game. He even set his surgery on a Monday so he could make Saturday's game, but doctors are now telling him that he might have to miss that week.
Still, he remains optimistic.
"If I'm still alive and able to, I will be at his games," Mike said.
And regardless of where he is and what he is going through, cancer is not going to change how he drives his son.
"When I was the head coach at Toledo, [Maty] was probably 10 years old and I knew his dad," Pinkel said. "So I've known him for a long, long time, and I know he will be on [Maty's] butt about making sure he plays his best. We can laugh about it, but that's true. There's no question that he'll be on him about keeping himself focused."
Not that Mike will need to do much to keep Maty focused. If his appearance at media days was any indication, the Missouri quarterback is plenty focused for the upcoming season.