Updated to correct Aloha Bowl loss instead of win.
When Mark Maye was a high school football player in Charlotte he was probably the most highly recruited player in the state and among the most sought after in the nation. He was the prominent schoolboy quarterback prospect of his time. That he decided to go to the University of North Carolina was seen as a coup for a school with a mixed history of developing top-flight signal callers. He was to be a game-changing recruit.
The state media, of which I was a part at the time, certainly treated him that way. Every move he made was heavily dissected in sports sections and debated among fans. The fanfare was such that he could probably never live up to it — even under perfect circumstances.
And these weren’t really perfect circumstances.
Mark Maye suffered a torn labrum and missed one season. When he returned it was to widespread speculation and second-guessing by fans and the media. It became so intense that then-coach Dick Crum, at a postgame press conference I attended, expressed exasperation with all the “Mark Maye experts out there.” Crum was already an embattled coach and the Maye story was a part of it.
In my first encounter with Mark Maye, at about the time of Crum’s postgame criticism, I was astonished. He didn’t seem like a major college athlete. He was very quiet, shy and had a slight speech issue (an occasional stutter). As he was surrounded by TV reporters with their glaring lights and print reporters with tape recorders stuck in his face, I could tell he was uncomfortable. I felt bad for the guy. It was the first of many learning experiences I would have about life, misconceptions and assumptions.
Mark Maye managed to lead UNC to the Aloha Bowl in 1986, where the Tar Heels lost 30-21 to Arizona, but more injuries kept him from accomplishing much more. He finished his career in Chapel Hill with more interceptions than touchdown passes. But he left UNC with a lot more, a stellar academic record and an MBA.
Today I watched Mark Maye’s son hit the shot that beat the University of Kentucky in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, sending the Tar Heels to the Final four. He was named Most Outstanding Player from the Sweet 16 rounds even though he plays in a reserve role.
Luke Maye arrived at UNC without nearly the fanfare his father did. He was a walk-on who earned a scholarship. He wasn’t recruited by UNC but was offered scholarships to Clemson and Davidson. He wanted to play in Chapel Hill – and made it happen.
As I watched the Tar Heels celebrate and noted the name Luke Maye going into UNC basketball lore, I couldn’t help but think about the weight of great expectations. I also thought that sometimes, the universe repays its debts.