National Football League
How Patriots QB Drake Maye's family shaped him to meet this moment
National Football League

How Patriots QB Drake Maye's family shaped him to meet this moment

Updated May. 21, 2024 12:39 p.m. ET

Drake Maye sent a text to his brother, Luke, in Japan the other day. Drake is the newly minted New England Patriots quarterback after being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Luke is in Japan playing pro basketball. Big things are happening for both brothers.

But the text was about golf.

"Drake's talking about how he's getting a new driver for next time he plays," Luke said. "He needs it because I just beat him about two weeks ago."

Golf is the athletic Switzerland for the Maye brothers. Neutral ground.


Luke, 27, is a former North Carolina basketball national champion. Beau, 22, was a basketball walk-on for UNC. Cole, 25, won an NCAA baseball title at Florida. None of them ever played golf at the collegiate level. Cole is the most practiced player, the first one to get a custom set of clubs.

Football, basketball and baseball aren't really fair playing fields for the Maye brothers. Golf levels the competition — which is to say that golf fuels the competition. Most other sports are unsafe for these young men.

"I've watched them play two-on-two basketball, and it's a bloodbath," said Scott Chadwick, Drake Maye's high school coach.

Now, to be clear, the Maye family is as nice and polite as they come. They are "yes please, ma'am" and "no, thank you, sir" kind of guys. But they are also as competitive as they come. On the course, there are no gimmes. Drake will make his brothers putt everything out, even from four feet. It's 18 holes of trash talk, even when visitors join.

"I've missed a shot that cost us a hole," Chadwick said. "I wanted to apologize so badly to Luke because now Luke had to listen to Drake trash-talking."

There aren't many competitions that Drake would shy away from. In fact, only one comes to mind. And we'll get to that. But New England's new QB seems obsessed with winning.

"It doesn't matter if I'm racing you out the door, or if we're on the field competing. I think competing to win, that's what Patriots Nation is about," he said.

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Just Tuesday, Maye was on Boston sports radio talking about rookie minicamp, where he'll see fellow rookie quarterback Joe Milton, New England's sixth-round pick. And while the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Maye had one of the strongest arms in the draft, Milton might have the strongest. So Maye fielded a question about whether he'd get into a distance competition with Milton.

"I ain't gonna turn it down." Maye said.

Of course not.

Drake's father, Mark, is a former UNC starting quarterback and NFL backup. Drake's mother, Aimee, was an excellent high school basketball player.

"She's probably the best athlete in our family," Luke said. "She doesn't play [in the competitions] sometimes because she knows she'd be in a bad mood if she loses. But she's been incredible. She's super supportive of all of us. And I just don't think she gets enough credit."

Everyone in the Maye family has some sort of superlative. Drake had been fighting for something other than "youngest." Being a top-three NFL pick isn't too shabby. 

That said, the Maye family values team success over individual success. Two of Drake's brothers have championship rings. 

"I'm gonna slightly hold my championship still above him," Luke said with a chuckle. 

There's plenty of time for Drake to chase a ring, and everyone around him is expecting big things. Super things.

"He is a guy who can win a Super Bowl," UNC coach Mack Brown said this week. "Drake has really been groomed for this. I mean his whole family his whole life expects this. And the two brothers throw the rings in his face all the time. I've seen enough interviews where they say, ‘Yeah, look here big boy. I've got this.'"

Brown added: "I did tell him after the selection, ‘Neither one of them were first-round picks, so you've got a little something on them right now.'"

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Drake's friends and family see the insane competitiveness everywhere, even in Ping-Pong. As a freshman at UNC, Maye challenged the team's starting QB, Sam Howell. When Howell beat Maye, the younger QB wouldn't accept defeat. It went from a best-of-one to a best-of-three to a best-of-five to a best-of-seven. 

A few years later, Coach Brown walked into the players' lounge after hearing a commotion. There was a Ping-Pong paddle, shattered into pieces.

"The tight end beat me. Can you imagine?" Maye asked his coach.

"Well then, get better at Ping-Pong," Brown replied.

It's like that on the football field, too. 

Sometimes, that competitiveness might be to his detriment. Last October, heading into UNC's game against Virginia, Brown tried to get Maye to take a few practices off. His response? "I can't miss practice. … I gotta get better." The Tar Heels took their first loss of the year to Virginia. In the regular-season finale against 22nd-ranked NC State, Maye suffered an ankle injury in the first half. By halftime, UNC was down 26-7. Maye wasn't playing in the bowl game. He could have easily bowed out and called it a career.

"I thought he was gonna be out [with the ankle]. They were telling me he's probably out," UNC offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. "It would have been really easy for him to kind of just ride off into the sunset. … I go see him at halftime. We're down and he's [reviewing the first-half plays]. ‘Coach, I like this. I like this. I like this. Let's go back to this.' 

"He just never had any inkling that he wasn't gonna compete all the way to the end."

But then there are those special moments. Two stick out for his father, along with Brown, Lindsey and UNC Senior Advisor Clyde Christensen. The first is Maye's left-handed pass, akin to something Brett Favre or Patrick Mahomes might do.

In a game last September at Pitt, Maye was scrambling to his left with Panthers defenders closing in. It seemed like he planned on running for whatever he could get. But as a defender got a hand on Maye, the QB looked up and saw receiver Kobe Paysour put up a hand. He was wide open. So Maye lifted the ball in his left hand and chucked it up for Paysour. Touchdown.

That gives you a taste of Maye's flair for the dramatic — and for his creativity. But his coaches wanted to make clear how badly he wants to win and how calm, composed and confident he gets in gotta-have-it situations. So the second moment that stands out to them came during UNC's 47-45, double-overtime win over Duke last November.

On North Carolina's two-point try in double overtime, Maye's first option was a screen on the boundary. He didn't like what he saw. Then he had a one-on-one out of the slot. Again, he didn't like what he saw. So he decided to tuck and run.

"As many options as we had, none of that looked great to me from upstairs," Lindsey said. "He just decided to go run the draw after he looked this way. And then [the pocket] collapses and the guy that was one-on-one kind of just popped free. [Maye] just raised up and popped it to him. In a big moment, he never panicked and won the game."

OK, but what about the time Maye walked away from a competition? Well, it's a long story that starts back in 2019, when Maye was a recruit committed to Alabama

Everyone thought he'd land at UNC like his dad and his brother. But during the recruitment process, Drake and Chadwick told scouts that the quarterback was not going to Carolina. Maye wanted it known that he was going to consider all his options — and he had great options. His top offers came from Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. (He was the only QB in his prospect class to get offers from all three.) He made his decision to play for Nick Saban.

After Maye committed to the Crimson Tide, however, Alabama managed to flip Bryce Young's commitment from USC. He was going to the Crimson Tide — with Maye.

"[Then-Alabama OC Steve] Sarkisian had a long history with Bryce Young's family," Chadwick said. "So in Drake's mind [he thought], ‘I'm not gonna get an opportunity there as long as Bryce Young is there.'"

Given the Sarkisian-Young connection, those close to Maye also wondered whether it would have been a real competition. Plus, according to Chadwick, Alabama had broken a promise to Maye that it wouldn't pursue another QB in his class.

All the while, UNC was jockeying for Maye, even after he'd committed to Bama. Former Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo — just coincidentally, surely — showed up at every Tar Heels basketball game that Maye attended to watch his big brother Luke. The arrival of Brown in 2019, too, seemed like a stellar addition at the right moment for UNC. It all changed Maye's mind. 

Maye walked into Chadwick's office and told him about his change of heart.

"I'm not calling Coach Saban," Chadwick told Maye.

So Drake called Saban and told him that he was de-committing from Alabama and going to UNC. Maye skipped the competition with Young. Instead, Maye would head to UNC, where he'd take on Howell. If he didn't win the job, Maye figured he could at least see the field after Howell left for the NFL.

Was this shift an indicator of some underlying character issue? Doubtful.

"I would adopt him," Brown said. "He's that perfect of a kid."

In the end, even Saban understood Maye's decision to decommit.

"I should be mad at him," Saban said during the ESPN broadcast on draft night. "I get it, and it's a North Carolina family. He had a great career and he did a great job for the state and I have a lot of respect for this guy. This guy is wired right."

Given what happened to Maye at UNC in his final college season, it's fun to imagine him at Alabama. The Crimson Tide boasts an impressive supporting cast, with some of the top offensive linemen and receivers in the draft every year. That was not the case for the 2023 Tar Heels, whose offensive line allowed 37 sacks. Those protection issues compounded the footwork and decision-making problems Maye had in 2022, when he threw for 38 touchdowns with just seven picks. And so his film is probably better in his first season as a starter for UNC. 

"He knows that he's got to tighten up his footwork and get himself aligned correctly and all the things that go into … just dropping from under center," Christensen said.

That's what Maye is working on now. He's in North Carolina with Christensen and Lindsey sharpening his footwork and protections. 

"That's a major, major, major difference in college and the pros. How do I handle the protections? Because all of a sudden, it falls on you," said Christensen, who has 27 years of NFL coaching experience. 

Maye has done some work with protections, but nothing at the level that he'll have to do in the NFL. Improving his footwork and protections should help prepare him for the smooth and steady transition he'll need to win the starting job for the Patriots.

New England signed veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett in free agency. The team wants Brissett, Maye, Bailey Zappe and Milton to compete for the QB1 spot. Brissett is set to make $8 million for 2024, while Maye will make $9 million annually over his four-year deal. Maye has all the talent in the world, while Brissett is competent but not flashy. 

New Patriots coach Jerod Mayo informed Maye in front of a few coaches that he would not automatically be the Day 1 starter. He'll have to earn the job. But given Maye's immense talent, his draft position and his salary, it would be hard to keep him off the field on Sunday. He'll get out there in 2024 — and likely in Week 1.

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The main attribute that separates Maye beyond his mindset is his arm talent. But arm talent is a tricky thing. It's mostly based on the eye test. It's not like weight or height or even speed and agility, where you can measure and quantify a player's physical gifts.

"I always get mad when people start throwing around the term ‘arm talent,'" Christensen said. "I'm not 100 percent sure exactly what that means. For me, what I care about is: Have you seen him make every throw? Can he throw the ball accurately? Does he have enough arm to throw the downfield stuff? Does he have enough touch to drop balls over top of tight coverage? Does he have an anticipation with his arm?"

When watching Maye's film, the answer to every one of Christensen's questions is: Yes.

Maye has shown he can elevate an offense around him. That's what drew Patriots de-facto GM Eliot Wolf to the prospect. Maye will certainly need to do that with New England, which had one of the least-talented offensive units in the NFL last year. And while the organization did some roster reshuffling this offseason, it wasn't the overhaul many expected given how much cap space the Patriots had going into free agency. They still don't really have a WR1 — nor do they have a left tackle. (Is it veteran Chukwuma Okorafor or rookie Caedan Wallace — who played on the right in college — or someone not yet on the team?) 

So many of the lessons Maye learned at UNC will be applicable if he takes over this season. No matter if he struggles or instantly succeeds, he's probably going to be a popular man in New England's locker room. He takes care of his own. When NIL money started pouring in at Carolina, Maye negotiated a sponsorship offer into a bigger deal involving his offensive linemen. When he got an offer for free seafood, he asked the company if it could include his receivers and their families. 

Christensen, who worked with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as an NFL coach, sees Maye's thoughtfulness and leadership as overlapping qualities with those legends.

"I think he has a lot of the same traits that give you a chance to be great," Christensen said. "He processes information extremely well — a lot like Peyton. He has a humbleness and humility like Tom that players played for. He has that kind of humility that just attracts teammates. He’s going to be a great teammate."

Maye knows when to show love for his guys. He knows when to encourage them to be better. And like Brady, he knows when and how to fire them up when they're not playing well enough to get a W.

"I don't think that's a small characteristic to share with Tom," Christensen said.

Maye is the future in New England. And the Patriots hope that future shares many characteristics with their past, especially their past with Brady.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.

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