10 things to know about D'Wan Mathis, a contender to become Georgia's starting quarterback in 2020
With quarterback Jamie Newman’s decision to opt out, it would seem fairly cut and dry that JT Daniels, with a full season under his belt as a former starter at USC, would be the choice for Kirby Smart on Sept. 26 at Arkansas, right?
Not so fast.
Daniels sustained an ACL tear last year that sidelined him for the bulk of 2019, and his health will continue to be in the spotlight during the next few weeks of fall practice. And it opens an opportunity for an inexperienced signal-caller in D’Wan Mathis, whose story will make it easy for anyone to root for.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the redshirt freshman:
1. At least 1 former Georgia quarterback is a fan
If you have Georgia legend Aaron Murray on your side, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. The SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards and TDs had a chance to catch Mathis in practice last year and was very pleased with what he saw from the Detroit-area native.
— Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) September 2, 2020
2. He committed to Ohio State before signing with Georgia
All signs pointed to Mathis, a 4-star pro-style passer in the 2019 class, staying relatively close to home as he initially committed to Ohio State. But a last-second change of heart in December 2018 saw him reverse course and pledge to instead play for Kirby Smart at Georgia.
This was when the news of Justin Fields planning a transfer to Columbus after losing the quarterback battle to Jake Fromm was being rumored but not yet official, and with that decision pending, Mathis saw an opportunity to receive playing time he otherwise wouldn’t see with the Big Ten power.
3. Turns out, Ohio State wasn’t his first choice, either
Even before Mathis committed to Ohio State, he had designs on a couple of other programs.
In February 2017, following an unofficial visit to Iowa State, he pledged to play for Matt Campbell and the Cyclones. But 4 months later, he camped with Ohio State and reopened his recruitment less than a week after that. Then, that September, he committed to Michigan State, only to spurn Sparty after Ohio State offered in May 2018.
4. He was regarded as one of his state’s top 10 players
Mathis’ performance in high school led to him advancing up the recruiting boards. According to 247Sports, he was the No. 9 overall player in Michigan and the No. 11 pro-style quarterback nationally. South Carolina’s Ryan Hilinski was the No. 2-ranked pro-style passer in the class. Former Alabama QB Taulia Tagovailoa, now at Maryland, was No. 5.
In the overall rankings, Mathis ranked No. 311 among seniors in the class of 2019.
5. He’s one of several Georgia QBs to advance to the Elite 11 Finals
Elite 11 bills itself as “the nation’s premier quarterback competition,” and in 2018, Mathis was 1 of 24 finalists who traveled to the Nike campus in Oregon. Two of his fellow finalists that year are players the Dawgs will face in 2020: Auburn’s Bo Nix and South Carolina’s Hilinski. And they could likely face a 3rd in Tennessee’s Brian Maurer, depending on how the quarterback battle goes in Knoxville.
Current Bulldog Carson Beck was a finalist in 2019, while Aaron Murray, D.J. Shockley, Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, Joe Cox, Justin Fields and Matthew Stafford are among the other Georgia quarterbacks who participated in the event.
6. One of the most famous alumni of Mathis’ high school is a reality TV star
Reality TV fans might recognize one of the names of former Oak Park High School attendees. Les Gold, a graduate of the school in the late 1980s, was the star of the popular truTV series “Hardcore Pawn.”
Another alumnus of Oak Park is a name familiar to SEC fans: former Tennessee running back John Kelly, who backed up Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara in 2015 and 2016 before taking over as the team’s primary ball-carrier in 2017.
7. Mathis has already made a little bit of history
Georgia hasn’t been a destination for Michigan high school football players in the past. And in some ways, that’s understandable with plenty of big programs in that part of the country. But according to 247Sports, Mathis is the 1st Georgia football player on scholarship from the state of Michigan since at least 2000. He’s not the most recent rostered player from the Great Lake State, though: Steven Van Tiflin, from Saginaw, was a walk-on from 2014-2018.
Who knows? Perhaps Mathis’s decision to attend Georgia can open up a recruiting pipeline to the Midwest.
8. Mathis underwent life-saving brain surgery in 2019
If Mathis never plays a down of football for the Bulldogs, he’ll at least be fortunate to be alive today. In May 2019, Mathis, according to USA Today, ended up in the hospital after initially complaining of pain in his sinus area, with an MRI revealing a cyst on his brain that required immediate removal.
“One more day and it could have burst,” Mathis’ father, Terence, said.
And while it’s been quite the road of recovery, Mathis has a team of doctors to thank for saving his life.
9. He showed well during Georgia’s spring game in 2019
Before his surgery, Mathis hoped to beat out Stetson Bennett for the QB2 spot behind Jake Fromm. A performance during Georgia’s annual G-Day spring game not only boosted his chances but may have given fans a hint of how he could theoretically be used offensively.
Despite being sacked 5 times, the then-incoming freshman was 15-for-28 for 113 yards, adding 9 carries for 29 yards while hauling in a touchdown catch from wide receiver Matt Landers on a trick play.
“He brings another element, because he has really good legs and really good feet,” Smart said after the game. “We might mix him in there at wideout some.”
10. He can get it done on the basketball court, too
Mathis’ 6-4 frame will be a benefit on the field, but he’s used it to his advantage off the gridiron as he played for the junior varsity team basketball team at Oak Park before shifting solely to football.
His height means he also has some hops, as he demonstrated in this video on Twitter 2 months after his brain surgery.
If Bulldogs men’s basketball head coach Tom Crean needs some bodies for the practice court, he’ll know where to turn.