Ma­ha­lak gets fresh start with Tigers

QB who was passed over at Ore­gon is look­ing to seize op­por­tu­nity as team leader

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Mike Klinga­man mike.klinga­man@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikeKlinga­man

The play wasn’t much to look at: a hand­off to the run­ning back, who went nowhere. But it was a mile­stone for Mor­gan Ma­ha­lak, Tow­son’s quar­ter­back who hadn’t taken a snap in a foot­ball game for three years.

Did the rust show? In a 56-20 loss at fa­vored South Flor­ida last Satur­day, Ma­ha­lak — a trans­fer from Ore­gon — com­pleted 16 of 36 passes for 165 yards. He was sacked twice and in­ter­cepted once for the Tigers (0-1). It was a rude bap­tism for the red­shirt sopho­more, a one­time bal­ly­hooed high school quar­ter­back who trekked 3,000 miles for a fresh start and a chance to lead Tow­son to the Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship Sub­di­vi­sion play­offs.

“It was re­as­sur­ing to get that first play — and game — out of the way,” Ma­ha­lak said. “There were highs and lows, and I took some knocks. But I’m as con­fi­dent as con­fi­dent can be for the next one.”

Tow­son will host 0-1 Saint Fran­cis (Pa.) at Johnny Uni­tas Sta­dium tonight at 6.

Three years ago, Ma­ha­lak had never heard of Tow­son. A four-star, all-state first-team quar­ter­back in Cal­i­for­nia, he earned a schol­ar­ship to Ore­gon as a high school ju­nior. At Ore­gon, as a fresh­man, he dressed for the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion na­tional cham­pi­onship Jan. 12, 2015, when the pre­vi­ously un­de­feated Ducks lost to Ohio State, 42-20.

Be­ing on the field at AT&T Sta­dium in Arlington, Texas, be­fore a rau­cous crowd of nearly 86,000 was “pretty in­cred­i­ble, some­thing you dream of all your life,” Ma­ha­lak said. “I was on cloud nine. It doesn’t get much bet­ter than that.”

Then his ca­reer stalled. He’d hoped to be heir to the de­part­ing Mar­cus Mar­i­ota, Ore­gon’s Heis­man Tro­phy-win­ning quar­ter­back. But Ore­gon wooed a se­nior trans­fer in 2015, then an­other this year. Their ar­rivals chased Ma­ha­lak out the Ma­ha­lak is pres­sured by de­fen­sive tackle Dead­rin Se­nat. In a 56-20 loss at fa­vored South Flor­ida last Satur­day, Ma­ha­lak com­pleted 16 of 36 passes for 165 yards. door.

“That was tough for me,” he said. “I was a lit­tle bit blind­sided by the back-to-back trans­fers; it was a bit of a slap in the face. But I try to put that in the past. I’ve com­pletely moved on.”

For a month, Ma­ha­lak wres­tled with his de­ci­sion to leave Ore­gon. Other schools made over­tures — Colorado, James Madi­son and Tem­ple. But af­ter a visit last win­ter, his first time in Mary­land, he chose Tow­son.

In part, he ac­cepts blame for flatlin­ing at Ore­gon.

“When I got there, I prob­a­bly wasn’t as pre­pared as I should have been,” he said. “I didn’t know what it took. Go­ing from high school to a top col­lege pro­gram is a big jump, play­book-wise and phys­i­cal­ity-wise. I was naive, like a lot of kids. Go­ing in, prepa­ra­tion isn’t some­thing that you quite un­der­stand. Now, know­ing that and go­ing for­ward, it’s eas­ier for me.”

Those two years as a Duck out of wa­ter were not wasted, he said.

“I grew up a lit­tle bit there. I learned how to han­dle ad­ver­sity,” Ma­ha­lak said. “As a com­peti­tor, not get­ting on the field is some­thing you hate to feel. I learned that a lot of times in life things aren’t go­ing to go the way you want.”

Tow­son has ral­lied around Ma­ha­lak, 20. His self-as­sur­ance is in­fec­tious, wide re­ceiver An­dre Dessen­berg said.

“Mor­gan brings a pos­i­tiv­ity to the hud­dle. He knows he can do it and he be­lieves we all can do it,” said Dessen­berg, who caught five passes in the opener. “When you can look a quar­ter­back in the eye and see that re­laxed con­fi­dence, it helps the of­fense that much more — and that’s Mor­gan.”

It’s a lead­er­ship mantra Ma­ha­lak learned at Ore­gon from Mar­i­ota, the No. 2 over­all pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

“Watch­ing Mar­cus taught me to stay in the mo­ment, fo­cus on one play at a time and keep things as sim­ple as you can be­cause foot­ball can get kind of hec­tic out there,” he said. “Just dial in the other 10 guys in the hud­dle and get them to do their job.”

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Tow­son’s Mor­gan Ma­ha­lak, a trans­fer from Ore­gon, trekked 3,000 miles for a chance to lead the Tigers to the Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship Sub­di­vi­sion play­offs. “I grew up a lit­tle bit there. I learned how to han­dle ad­ver­sity,” Ma­ha­lak said of his time as a Duck.

JOSEPH GAR­NETT JR./GETTY IM­AGES

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