Ben Mauk Prepares For Opener

With the season opener against Southeast Missouri State only days away, Bearcat Insider spoke with the guy expected to take the first snaps from center for Cincinnati.

If Ben Mauk takes the first Cincinnati snaps from center this season, it will be the first step in what could be college football's best feel good story of the year.  In slightly less than one calendar year, the Kenton High School star, who one Ohio scout recently called "the best high school quarterback I've ever seen," has made it all the way back from a broken throwing arm and torn labrum to becoming the Bearcats' starting quarterback.



Mauk injured the arm and shoulder on September 2 in Wake Forest's season opener against Syracuse and will apparently take the first snaps for the Bearcats only 363 days later.  After seeing the lengthy scar along his bicep and watching his soft throws in practice only three weeks ago, it's amazing the young man whose will power is rivaled only by his faith is where he is.  And he is where he belongs, under center reading defenses and making plays.  As has been his custom, Ben is philosophical about his rapid recovery.   "Like I said all along, I was going to prepare my fields for a rainy year even though I was going through a drought where my arm wasn't feeling good.  It wasn't feeling strong, but I knew to keep prepared mentally for when it did start to feel good.  I've reached that point but still have a way to go.  Still, I feel pretty comfortable back there right now."


The throws from Mauk's right arm that once broke almost every high school passing record in Ohio are now getting to his Cincinnati receivers in a more timely fashion, but Ben contends the best is yet to come.  "My arm is still coming back.  There are days when it's sore, but I keep pushing through and keep trying to throw.  Even if it's sore, I'm going to keep throwing so the muscles get used to it."


Memories of last September 2 still occasionally haunt the Bearcat quarterback.  "I was thinking about it the other day, and that it hasn't quite been a year since I was injured.  But everything has come full circle, and I'm just excited to get another opportunity to play football."


In addition to getting physically healthy enough to play, the Wake Forest transfer also had to win over the hearts and minds of his new Bearcat teammates in a very short period of time.  He feels the Higher Ground Retreat Center may have lived up to its name.  "Camp Higher Ground helped me out with that a lot.  We were put in a situation where we had to come together and bond.  I think we did a really good job with that.  The offense really responds well to all the quarterbacks, and the quarterbacks all have good chemistry among ourselves.  We all joke around with each other, and no one talks behind anyone else's back."


Running the spread offense helped Mauk lead Kenton High to back-to-back state championships, and Ben believes that experience has helped him learn Coach Kelly's high octane passing game.  "It's very similar to what we ran.  We're going to try and hit the seams.  We don't want to hit the check downs.  We want to try and score and get as many points on the board as we can."


Mauk will be listed in the Cincinnati program at 6' 1", but he is actually barely 6 feet tall, making him the shortest of Cincinnati's quarterbacks.  But Ben doesn't feel vertically challenged.  In fact, he thinks a quarterback's height is way overrated.  "You can watch college football games every week and see a 6' 5" or 6' 6" quarterback get passes batted down.  I thought that was why people wanted a tall quarterback, so passes wouldn't get batted down.  My height has never bothered me, and thankfully Coach Kelly doesn't care too much about height either.  He just wants somebody that can win, and he probably has six quarterbacks that can do that for him this year."  


In addition to having a reputation as an excellent passer, Mauk has shown a nice burst of speed when flushed from the pocket.  "One of the things I've always worked on is my quickness.  It's another tool I have if I need to get out of the pocket."  On Thursday evening, the rules will be different.  Up until now, Mauk has not taken a hit in training camp.  Southeast Missouri State won't be tagging off when they get a chance to hit #9, but Ben feels he's ready.  "Thanks to Coach Longo, he's gotten my strength to where it needs to be.  Physically, I think I'm ready to take a hit.  I've been taking them since the fourth grade.  It won't be anything new.  I know I haven't taken a hit on the arm, but it's been bumped a few times, and I think it will be okay."


After the season, Ben will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, but the arm/shoulder injury has taught him to take nothing for granted.  "After getting hurt last year, I learned I have to play every down at 110%.  You never know what play will be your last one."


As Thursday quickly approaches, Ben is almost giddy with excitement.  "I haven't been this excited since high school.  Before I go to sleep, I picture plays happening in my head, and I'm just excited to play football again."  And Bearcat football fans are just as excited to see if Mauk can lead his team to a BCS bowl and give this story the ending it deserves.



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