College News & Analysis

“Carolina blue means a lot to me”: QB Drake Maye is all in on leading UNC to greater heights

Let’s be honest. You probably did not know who Drake Maye was a year ago at this time. I don’t blame you. The then-true freshman sat behind Sam Howell at North Carolina and played all of 41 snaps in 2021.

I’m sure you know who he is now, though.

If you don’t, perhaps watch his highlights below. We'll be talking about him as a potential top-five pick for the next 12 months. Starting now.

Breakout Season

Drake Maye was thrust into the spotlight in 2022 after Sam Howell departed for the NFL, and he finished the season as the third-highest-graded Power Five quarterback, sporting an elite 91.5 PFF grade. He also ranked fourth in the country in passing yards (4,321 yards) to go along with 38 touchdown passes.

“It really just all happened so fast,” Maye said in an exclusive interview with PFF. 

Standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Maye seems like just a pocket passer on the surface. But he loves running the ball and is as much of a dual-threat quarterback as anyone in the country. This past season, he racked up 899 rushing yards (excluding sacks) and added seven touchdowns on the ground. 

“Part of my game is making plays and extending plays,” he said.

Although Maye was a lauded recruit, he still came in under the radar last season after narrowly winning the starting quarterback job. Sitting behind Howell for a year proved to be a valuable opportunity to learn from the star quarterback, now a member of the Washington Commanders.

“It was awesome learning from Sam, seeing how he approached it,” Maye said.

Maye was able to find immediate success and develop chemistry with his teammates, which led to North Carolina fielding one of the best offenses in the nation.

It didn't hurt having a wide receiver of Josh Downs' caliber at his disposal. The 2023 third-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts helped Maye lead the country in big-time throws (45). 

“He’s the best player I’ve ever thrown to,” Maye said.


Tar Heel Loyalty

“Carolina blue means a lot to me,” Maye said. “It means something playing for my home state.”

Maye has worn Carolina blue his whole life, continuing his family's legacy at North Carolina. His father, Mark, was the team's quarterback in the '80s, while two of his brothers played basketball for the Tar Heels.

His dad was the one who taught him how to do that nasty pump fake he excels at. 

“My dad was big into the pump fake,” Maye said. “He always was telling me to throw off a defense with the pump fake.”

With all of Maye's success came rumors of a potential transfer to powerhouses such as Alabama and Georgia this offseason. But he plans to stick around.

“I really didn’t have any intentions ever to leave,” he said. “I wanted to play here, and this is where I want to end up graduating.”

He credits North Carolina head coach Mack Brown as a big reason why he’s at the university, to begin with. Brown, who ranks 19th all time in wins, has made a tangible impact on Maye on the field and off it.

“One of the best to ever do it. We love playing for him,” Maye said.

Upcoming season

Having just finished the spring game ahead of the 2023 college football season, Maye faces a new level of hype and expectations. The spotlight is a bit brighter on one of the Heisman favorites heading into the season. He feels as though it's even less pressure, though, after gaining so much confidence during his 2022 campaign.

“Maximize and take the same approach I did last year,” Maye said of his perspective on the upcoming season.

He aims to not get complacent after last year’s success. The 2023 season is about improving amid a handful of fresh weapons and a new offensive system, and figuring out how those new pieces fit and what they all bring to the table is the challenge.

Maye plans to work on his footwork and gain some weight this offseason, as well.

He is not worried about individual accolades, and while there are too many team goals to name, a big one is to get back to the ACC championship — and win it this time.

The Tar Heels fell to Clemson, 39-10, in last year's title game, and the Tigers will be a contender once again. That was by far the toughest defense Maye faced all season, but he said he’s already looking forward to a rematch in Death Valley this November.

2024 NFL Draft

Maye is still an underclassman and will have to decide later this year whether he wants to declare for the 2024 NFL Draft.

If mock drafts are any indication, he is a potential top-five pick in a highly touted quarterback class, led by him and USC's Caleb Williams. The two know each other well and text often. 

“It was a pleasure getting to know him in high school and see the type of player he’s become,” Maye said.

The Maye versus Williams debate will only gain more steam as the 2023 season wears on.

Maye has already drawn some comparisons to Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, and he models his game after Burrow. 

“I love watching Joe play, just the way he handles himself on and off the field with the swag he’s got.”

If the past few years have taught us anything, Maye will certainly be in good hands if he continues to learn from Burrow's skill set.

For now, we wait and watch as Maye leads the Tar Heels through the 2023 campaign.

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