RICHMOND, Ky. — Maty Mauk understands that second-guessing might accompany his second chance at Eastern Kentucky.
But following a tumultuous junior season at Missouri, the quarterback is looking forward to a fresh start with the Colonels. Mauk was suspended three times in four months before being dismissed in January by new Tigers coach Barry Odom after a video surfaced on Twitter showing someone snorting a powdery white substance.
Mauk denied he was the person snorting the substance in the video, which he said was made "a couple of years ago." But Mauk acknowledged making a bad choice by being present when the substance was being snorted and is working to show he’s "living a clean life" and has learned from the incident.
"I put myself in a situation that night and kind of acted like I did it," Mauk said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It was one of those situations I wish I could’ve taken myself out of, but I had to learn from it and haven’t been around anything like that for years now."
Mauk said the first suspension came while he was dealing with his father Mike’s cancer surgery last fall. He acknowledged doing things that merited disciplinary actions and said other behavior "snowballed" into more suspensions.
As much as Mauk hurt for his father, Mike Mauk said he ached even more not being able to be there for his son during his ordeals.
"Maty’s struggle was worse for me because he’s my son and I know he wasn’t the man he was portrayed to be," said the elder Mauk, who has recovered and looks forward to coaching high school football in Springfield, Missouri.
But Mike Mauk also believes Maty will benefit from his setbacks.
"You go through things to find out who you are and where you look to for faith and guidance," Mike said. "Those things determine your character."
First-year EKU head coach Mark Elder had a previous relationship with Mauk. He recruited the Kenton, Ohio, native heavily as a University of Cincinnati assistant. The relationship Elder developed with Mauk during the recruiting process leads the coach to believe the QB’s recent troubles weren’t indicative of the person he is and notes that high-profile college athletes — and young adults, for that matter — make mistakes.
"I feel more than confident that (with) the mistakes that Maty has made, he is moving forward," Elder said. "Maty knows what my expectation levels are for him and what he needs to do."
The coach anticipates Mauk, who went 17-5 as a starter in the Southeastern Conference and threw for 4,373 yards and 42 touchdowns from 2013-15, to compete for the starting quarterback position with incumbent Bennie Coney.
Mauk isn’t the first athlete to seek redemption at EKU.
Noah Spence, a standout defensive end at Ohio State, transferred to EKU last year with a history of failed drug tests that led to his ban by the Big Ten Conference. Spence regrouped at EKU to become the Ohio Valley Conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year last season and a second-round NFL draft pick (39th overall) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last spring.
EKU athletic director Steve Lochmueller said the same support system that helped Spence thrive at EKU will benefit Mauk.
"We believe in second chances under certain conditions," Lochmueller told the AP in a phone interview. "We had a discussion, and Coach Elder and I decided that if Maty wanted to come here and resurrect his life and resurrect his career, then that’s a good thing."
Mauk knew he needed new surroundings after the upheaval for him and the Missouri program.
His African-American teammates at Missouri threatened a boycott last November to protest the school’s handling of racial and student welfare issues. Tigers coach Gary Pinkel stepped down soon after to battle cancer as well, and their 3-0 start dissolved into a 5-7 finish and no bowl game.
Mauk explored other options after his dismissal before Elder reached out to him this spring with an opportunity he jumped on after graduating from Missouri. His late arrival in May has meant a crash course of learning the playbook and getting to know his teammates, but it all seems worth it as the quarterback tries to show the EKU community and others that this Mauk version is better and smarter — on and off the field.
"I want them to see that I’ve learned from my mistakes," Mauk said. "I’ve matured and I’m a hard-working guy that’s going to do whatever it takes to win a national championship here and land in the NFL."