Well-Heeled: Drake Maye flourishing as he carries on family tradition at North Carolina

SN/UNC Athletics

Drake Maye knows he is using the pump fake too much, but why not? 

It's working at the moment.  

Watch the North Carolina quarterback's first touchdown pass in the 63-61 shootout against Appalachian State on Sept. 4. Maye froze a defensive back with a one-handed pump fake to Kobe Paysour in the flat before launching over the top to J.J. Jones for a 23-yard touchdown. Maye refined the move watching soon-to-be Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, but the behavior was learned at a much earlier age. 

When Maye speaks, the fun-loving Carolina accent tells the truth. 

"The biggest thing with the pump fake was probably just playing in the backyard with friends and my older brothers," Maye told Sporting News. "A little pump fake can go a long way." 

It went a little longer in the Maye backyard. Drake's older brothers Luke, Cole and Beau were a problem. Luke grew into a 6-8 power forward and a member of North Carolina's men's basketball national title team. Cole, a 6-7 pitcher, played for Florida's College World Series championship team the same year. Beau, at 6-9, is Maye's roommate at North Carolina now. 

"He was always an athlete," Luke Maye told SN. "He was always a person who dominated his age group and he played up quite a bit. We definitely toughened him up a bit, but I'm just so proud of him. I just love him to death." 

The Maye family also loves North Carolina. Drake Maye, a 6-5, 220-pound redshirt freshman, averages 310 passing yards per game, and has a national-best 11 TDs and one interception through a 3-0 start. The Tar Heels face Notre Dame on Saturday in the next test. 

Maye, a one-time Alabama commit, is leading the bounce-back season. It's the ultimate Tar Heel tale, with two generations of quarterbacks and connection to North Carolina coach Mack Brown that made it possible. Those closest to Drake Maye have seen this coming. 

Passing TD leaders among freshmen
NamePassing TDs
Drake Maye, North Carolina11
A.J. Swann, Vanderbilt6
Clay Millen, Colorado State5
Aveon Smith, Miami-Ohio5

"He wouldn't have enough time to start but he could be a guy who would play on their basketball team," North Carolina coach Mack Brown told SN. "He's that good at basketball."

That is the North Carolina basketball team Brown is talking about. Turns out Drake has a good pump fake in basketball, too. 

"They're highly competitive, but they also are people of faith and they believe in treating people right and doing everything right," Brown said. "Drake is never going to say a cuss word. That's just not who he is." 

So, who is Drake Maye? 

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Brown knows where Drake picked up the mechanics. Brown saw them in the 1980s in Chapel Hill, N.C., from a quarterback he believes would have made the NFL if not for a shoulder injury. 

"Without question the fact that his father was the leading passer in the ACC and he coached him at an early age and helped him with his throwing motion has helped," Brown said. "Drake has got such a quick release, and he's so accurate." 

Mark Maye was a two-year starter for the Tar Heels in 1986-87 under coach Dick Crum. Mark remembered his first big-game start at North Carolina against No. 15 Florida State on Sept. 20, 1986. Did Maye avoid throwing passes in Florida State cornerback Deion Sanders' vicinity? 

"I tried to," Maye told SN with a belly laugh. "We knew they had great players and he was definitely one of them, but that game ended up in a 10-10 tie."

Drake appreciates his father's football recall, but talks just as much about his father's work ethic. 

"He gets up when the stock market opens and he's working until 4:30 when the stock market closes," Maye said. "He's doing after-hours stuff. It's kind of that obsession over something that he tries to instill in us. If we find something we love, then he tells us to put the maximum effort into it."

When Mark graduated from North Carolina, he sought a coaching position with the new coach. Brown's first stint with the Tar Heels was in 1988, and he hired Mark as a graduate assistant. That connection would pay off with Drake later. 

"I got to see first-hand what a great person he is and how he cares about all people and obviously his players," Mark Maye said. "There's nobody better than Coach Brown at getting along with people and handling people."

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Luke Maye's spot in North Carolina lore is secure. He hit the game-winning shot against Kentucky in the Elite Eight in the 2017 men's basketball tournament. Luke remembers Drake playing up in youth sports and the lessons he learned the long way from his older brothers. Drake gets texts from Luke each week with simple messages. 

"It's your time." 

"Don't change a thing." 

"Have fun out there." 

"Drake is on his own path, and I want it to be about him," Luke said. "He has put in a lot of work to get this far. He knows there is more work to do." 

When Brown took the North Carolina job in 2019, Luke attended a few spring practices. He even spoke with the team at one point. Meanwhile, Drake was an emerging four-star recruit at Myers Park High School. He committed to Alabama on Nov. 9, 2019, two months after future Heisman winner Bryce Young committed to Nick Saban. Brown was not worried. 

"I never thought Drake would go to Alabama because this is his school," Brown said. "This is his family's school." 

Drake developed a rapport with North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo in the recruiting process. Drake said Mark and his mother Aimee, also a North Carolina grad, didn't pressure the decision. Still, Drake felt the close-to-home call. He flipped to North Carolina on March 6, 2020. 

"The people make the place, whether it's the teammates or the coaches or people in class," Maye said. "They're all huge fans. If you go to Carolina, then you're a huge sports fan. Everybody is kind and supportive. Something about that Carolina blue is different."  

That was the second time Brown was able to get a quarterback to flip. Shortly after Brown was hired, Sam Howell flipped from Florida State to North Carolina. 

"It made it OK for kids to say, 'If Sam Howell can flip from Florida State to go here, he must think this is pretty cool so I'm going to do the same thing,'" Brown said. "Then you get Drake Maye to flip from Alabama, and both those guys are tremendous recruiters. We've recruited well and those two guys are a whole lot of the reason."

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Maye's senior season of high school football was canceled because of COVID-19 in 2020, and when he arrived on campus Howell was the established starter. The Tar Heels were coming off an Orange Bowl appearance in Brown's second season, too. 

Maye wasn't pushing for the starting job, but that didn't mean there wasn't constant competition. Ping-pong. Golf. Hitting the goal post with the football. Howell played all those games with Maye, and that trust strengthened during that season. 

"Drake was always trying to learn," Howell told SN. "He asked a lot of questions. He was always paying attention and trying to get better. He would always work so hard whether he was playing or not." 

When Howell missed the matchup against Wofford on Nov. 20, 2021, because of an upper body injury, Jacolby Criswell and Maye each started a half in his place. Maye had not taken a live snap in a game since his junior year. What was his first reaction to the first snap? 

"Shoot, it's been two years,'" Maye said. "At the same time, you kind of missed it. I wouldn't say it was rust, but it was getting back into the swing of things and just missing that feeling." 

Maye finished 7 of 9 for 99 yards and a TD. Howell was not surprised. 

"Drake does a lot of things well, but the first thing is he's really smart," Howell said. "He understands what they're trying to do on offense and what the defense is trying to do to stop him. The game comes very naturally to him." 

Howell was selected by the Washington Commanders in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Maye edged out Criswell for the starting job in fall camp and enjoyed an impressive debut against Florida A&M in Week 0. The matchup with Appalachian State turned out to be the first test – and a sign of things that signify a bright future ahead.  

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Getty Images

Maye doesn't just have the pump fake at his disposal. He has 26 rushing attempts for 146 yards, and that included a leaping first down against the Mountaineers that led to a sideline discussion with Brown. 

"Get your first down and get out of bounds," Brown told Maye. "Let's not be a hero here.” 

Does Maye need to learn how to slide? 

"I feel like I'm pretty good at sliding from playing baseball growing up," Maye said. "On third downs, the kind of mentality – and Sam had the same mentality maybe on first-down slide – it's trying to get the first down. I know you need to be more aware of where the sticks are at and maybe not leap around the goal line, but coach is fine with me going up and trying to get the extra yards, especially with my size, to get the touchdown." 

Maye showed the stiff arm on a 21-yard touchdown that gave the Tar Heels a two-score lead against Appalachian State, and Howell, who made the trip from Washington, D.C., just happened to be standing outside the end zone in the right place at the right time. 

"He has more mobility than people give him credit for, and he's starting to show that a little bit," Howell said. 

Maye delivered in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 49. The Mountaineers came with a blitz on third-and-9, and May found Jones, who slipped out of the backfield, for the go-ahead 42-yard touchdown. Maye finished with 352 passing yards and four TDs. 

"It's impressive from so many levels," Brown said. "It was an unblocked defender. He was going to get hit right in the chest. He knew it. Not only did he keep his eyes on his target – he knew who the open guy was – he was tall enough to get it over everybody's hands. It was a perfectly thrown ball, and then he got hit. All that is very difficult to do for a young quarterback." 

Luke, who plays for Coviran Granada in Spain, is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. He rushed home from a scrimmage just in time to see the end of the Appalachian State game. 

"I was definitely all over the place," Luke said. "It was a great game. I couldn't watch a couple of those two-point conversions." 

Neither could Drake. He turned toward the crowd during those last few conversion attempts. Yet, the Tar Heels survived in a 63-61 thriller, a victory that looks even better given Appalachian State's upset against Texas A&M the following week. Brown danced in the locker room. Howell found Drake at midfield, and he delivered a high-five and a short message. 

"Congrats," Howell said. "I'm proud of you." 

Luke texted Drake an almost identical message, and Drake found the rest of his family afterward. 

"It was a good experience as far as a road game and a crowd that was really fired about it," Mark said. "It was a good deal for everybody on the team. Hopefully that will help them all, along with Drake." 

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Where does this tale go from here? The Tar Heels beat Georgia State 35-28 in Week 3 and had a bye week, and Maye made headlines for taking a dig at NC State in this week's press conference. 

"Growing up in Carolina, you're going to be a Carolina fan," Maye said. "Some people may say State, but really people who go to State just can't get into Carolina."

Maye apologized on Twitter afterward even if it really was not all that necessary. That is every-day talk in The Triangle. 

Now, there will be a little more attention on Maye leading up to that matchup on Nov. 25. Those who didn't watch the Appalachian State matchup will get their first look against Notre Dame, which is 1-2 under first-year coach Marcus Freeman but still very much in the spotlight.

The Irish are 20-1 in the all-time series against North Carolina because the Tar Heels' 2008 victory was vacated. Notre Dame won the last two matchups in 2020 and 2021. Howell cannot wait to see it. 

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"No matter what the circumstances are, Drake is going to do everything to give him a chance to win," Howell said. "He's definitely going to continue to lead those guys, and I can't wait to watch." 

Deion Sanders isn't on the other sideline, but it's still a pressure spot. What does Mark Maye tell his son before games like this? In the Maye household, simple messages go a long way, too. 

"Have fun out there," Mark said. "We grew up going to football games. We grew up going to basketball games. It's really been ingrained in all of them. (Drake) loves it. He's really having a good time at the school there also. He couldn't be happier." 

Luke, from overseas, continues to be impressed. 

"My biggest thing was how he handled the adversity," Maye said. "There was the Appalachian State fourth quarter, then the interception and the fumble in the Georgia State game. He came back from that, really buckled in and made the plays." 

In that sense, it's not all that different from the battles with his brothers. Maye said all four try to FaceTime or play video games whenever they can. There is even talk of someday working together for their own firm – perhaps call it Maye Inc. or the Maye Corp. Maye has no plans to play basketball at North Carolina, though he misses throwing those full-court passes. 

In the meantime, Maye is ready for the next pump-fake – or the next stiff arm. It's hard to find a quarterback having more fun in the most-pressured position right now. He continues to live by the advice Mark taught him in the backyard a long time ago. 

"He says have fun with it and try not to get fat like him," Drake said. "That is what he always says. I just enjoy living in the moment. Looking ahead can get you in trouble."

Author(s)
Bill Bender is a national college football writer for The Sporting News.
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