COLUMBIA — When Missouri visits Toledo for an afternoon kickoff Saturday, sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk wants to "put on a show."
Not for himself. Not for the ESPN national broadcast. Not for his team, even.
"For him," the sophomore said, referring to a lifelong friend from his hometown of Kenton, Ohio, roughly 76 miles south of Toledo.
Watching from the wheelchair-accessible section of the stadium's south end zone will be 18-year-old Drey Dearing.
Kenton will be well represented in the stands this weekend. Bundles of tickets have been reserved by the people who watched their town's high school signal caller put together a career that made him the country's all-time leader in passing yards, completions and touchdowns.
It will mean something to see all those people, Mauk said. But it will mean something else entirely when he sees his childhood friend once again.
Dearing could walk when he was 5 years old. That was when he first became pals with Mauk. It was the fall of 2001, and they were fellow ball boys for the Kenton Wildcats, coached by Mauk's father, Mike, and quarterbacked by his brother, Ben.
On the sidelines, when the Wildcats won the state championship that year, Dearing could leap.
Dearing could run then, too, at least a little bit. On Friday nights, before the varsity team kicked off, he would team up with Maty and the boys. Dearing loved football as much as any of them.
"Drey, all he wanted was to play football," said his father, Doug Dearing.
But muscular dystrophy took its merciless course. It is a degenerative disease for which there is no cure, and by the fifth grade, it had taken away Drey Dearing's ability to walk.
Since then, Mauk and Dearing have shared a bond that has only grown stronger.
"People could've just dismissed Drey and not involved him in anything, but Maty was always there," Doug Dearing said. "If he was going anywhere, he would always make sure Drey was included."
To the movies. To the football field. To the basketball court. To the fishing pond. To Buffalo Wild Wings. By the time he could get behind a steering wheel, Mauk would think of the friend who couldn't do the same.
So he would go to Drey Dearing's house. He would borrow the Chrysler van with the wheelchair ramp from Dearing's dad, and he would buckle Drey Dearing in.
Sometimes, there wasn't even a destination in mind. Sometimes, Mauk would just want to take his friend for a drive. Sometimes, he'd just bring his PlayStation over, and they'd stay put.
"To watch Drey have to go through things that Maty hasn't had to, I think that was difficult for him," Mauk's mother, Gwyn, said. "I've heard Maty say, 'If I could just take it away from him and just carry that for a day...'"
What Mauk could do was make his friend smile. In his wheelchair on the sidelines, Drey Dearing wore one throughout all those wins that Mauk orchestrated. Dearing was the first person Mauk would look for after victory.
The same went for after defeat. As a senior in 2011, after losing the state championship in the final minute, Mauk knelt by Dearing on the sideline. They consoled one another. Teammates joined them.
"It was moving to see," recalled Mauk's father and coach. "They all wanted to win that thing for that kid."
Before he left for Missouri, Mauk had a yellow shirt made for himself that showed a photo from that senior season. In the photo, he's in his uniform beside Dearing. One day in Columbia, Mauk took a picture of himself in that shirt, and he sent it to Dearing, who's kept it saved on his phone. He keeps many photos taken with Mauk, many from his visits to campus. Some were taken on Faurot Field.
"So you're the one he's always talking about," coaches and teammates have told Dearing upon seeing him.
Days before the start of winter break in 2012, Mauk hustled home to Kenton early. Dearing was to undergo a spinal fusion.
Throughout the rest of that month, Mauk and Dearing were together again. They hung out like old times.
"It's a life changing thing to have someone care about you that much," Dearing's father said.
These days, the two text frequently and send each other photos on Snapchat. They keep in touch.
"But he's a pretty busy guy," said Dearing, who graduated from Kenton in May and serves as an assistant coach on the football team. He has a game Friday night and will ride with his dad to Toledo early Saturday morning.
It will be the first time he watches his friend start behind center for the Tigers.
"It's just really exciting," Dearing said. "I've watched him over the years and I know he's worked really hard to get where he's at."
And all along, Mauk has had someone to play for.
Supervising editor is Raymond Howze.