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What D’Wan Mathis overcame to be Georgia’s likely QB1

D’Wan Mathis and those close to him heard the chatter. The former four-star prospect was not going to factor into Georgia’s future plans. The Bulldogs signed All-American Carson Beck in the 2020 class. Five-star passer Brock Vandagriff would arrive in 2021. Jamie Newman came to campus as a grad transfer from Wake Forest, preventing a true quarterback competition this fall.

Then the shocker: Former five-star JT Daniels picked Georgia as his grad transfer destination, bringing three years of eligibility with him.

“When JT transferred in everyone said, ‘Man, is this a sign?’” Mathis’ longtime QB coach Donovan Dooley told 247Sports. “We don’t see things that way. D’Wan doesn’t see things that way.”

How could he?

Mathis, a redshirt freshman, experienced more the last two years than most will in a decade. It began with a diagnosis. Headaches and sinus pain plagued Mathis last spring. After a few checkups and X-Rays, doctors identified a brain cyst and told Mathis he needed emergency brain surgery.

D’Wan had company in the hospital. His dad, Terence, had been in and out of the facility back home in Michigan. Dooley was, too. The 35-year-old Quarterback University founder fought a rare form of cancer, the youngest person by two decades in his treatment center.

Dooley continued to work out throughout his battle. Mathis had no choice but to do the same.

“We push through,” Dooley said. “Never going to complain.”

As Georgia barrels toward its season opener Saturday with Arkansas (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network), Mathis has positioned himself as the Bulldogs’ likely starting quarterback. Dawgs247 reported last week Mathis had earned many of the reps with the 1s, and former Georgia quarterback and CBS analyst Aaron Murray told 247Sports he expects Mathis to win the job. Daniels is not yet fully cleared for game action, though Kirby Smart said Monday he “expects” it to happen. 

When Greg Carter, Mathis’ head coach at Oak Park High School, spoke to his former star pupil recently, he made sure to stress one thing above all else: “You’re a fighter.”

“Competing through the quarterback battle was something he was ready for,” Carter said.

“He’s On A Different Level Now”

Carter saw Mathis throw for the first time as a little leaguer. The Michigan High School Hall of Fame coach watched Mathis toss out routes from the opposite hash and deliver strikes on comeback routes with ease. “He could throw the football, there was never a doubt,” Carter said.

Physically, Mathis is a specimen. 

Standing 6-foot-6 with the grooved throwing motion of someone who’s worked with Dooley since age 11, Mathis looks the part. Even his 205-pound frame is misleading. He’s thin, but Carter insists its wiry strength. That length comes with speed. Mathis posted a 10.84-second 100-meter dash time in high school, pairing that with solid horizontal quickness (4.34-second 20-yard shuttle) and a 32-inch vertical.

Yet there were times college recruiters hinted Mathis should play wide receiver. Dooley said it never occurred overtly – nobody wanted to lose the nation’s No. 311 overall prospect, per the 247Sports Composite – but it hung over many conversations. Perhaps that’s because Mathis wasn’t immediately sold on quarterback. A younger Mathis didn’t appreciate the nuances of the game. He dominated athletically, why bother with checks, protections and coverages?

That changed Mathis’ senior year. He started to embrace the responsibility, leading Oak Park to a 9-2 overall record and completing 63 percent of his passes. The real transformation would come during his freshman season. Not yet cleared to play following his surgery, Mathis turned an eye toward the mental side of the game, sitting in the same meeting room each week with Jake Fromm. He embraced the demands Georgia’s pro-style offense placed upon him.

When Mathis came home to work with Dooley this offseason, his football vocabulary had ballooned. Mathis discussed protections and checks with practiced repetition. He understood when he’s supposed to work the boundary or the field based on the defense’s alignment. Dooley saw a quarterback who had evolved. 

“He’s on a different level right now,” Dooley said. “He’s just understanding the whys and the whens.”

Mathis’ Role In Transforming Georgia’s Offense

While LSU and Alabama won national championships in recent years after pivoting to the spread, Georgia’s offense remained a plodding, pro-style system. After the Bulldogs finished just 46th nationally last season in yards per play – LSU and Alabama tied for second – Kirby Smart hired Todd Monken as offensive coordinator to modernize the offense.

Monken brings a hybrid Air Raid system to Athens, a scheme that prioritizes aggressive vertical routes and many spread principles. With plus arm strength and good touch, Mathis is plenty capable of making downfield throws to players like star receiver George Pickens.

His athletic ability can also open up the offense in a way no Bulldog passer has since … well, nobody in modern history.

“The game is changing,” Murray said. “What a quarterback can do is changing a little. It’s exciting. You love a guy that’s mobile and can do a little of everything. … It adds a really cool dynamic, especially with the zone read and RPO game that continues to get bigger and bigger at all levels. It’s great for Monken. It’s great for Georgia’s offense. And it’s tough for defenses.”

Murray, a four-year starter at Georgia from 2010-13, spends plenty of time around Athens. He met Mathis as a freshman a season ago. He knows what sort of arm talent Mathis has. But even he came away from a scrimmage earlier this fall camp a bit surprised by how well Mathis played. He thinks Mathis will beat out JT Daniels, and he speculates Mathis is part of the reason Newman decided to opt out of the 2020 season: “The timing was a little suspect.”

“The ball comes out of his hands effortlessly,” Murray said. “He’s very smooth. He has great mechanics. I think he’s the complete package. I really do. He has the running game and can make all the throws you want.”

Dooley spoke to Mathis about his doubters just last week. Mathis and those close to him know people wrote him off after the Bulldogs’ pair of offseason transfers. It may have even happened after Mathis missed most of his freshman season recovering.

When Daniels arrived on campus, Dooley told Mathis he needed to act like a professional. A player had been traded to Georgia. Compete. That’s what the last few years have bred Mathis to do.

“That’s the type of guy Georgia has behind center,” Dooley said. “He’s not going to complain. He’s going to push through.”

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