Cincinnati QB Mauk starting to feel good with metal-filled arm

Updated: November 14, 2007, 6:11 PM ET
Associated Press

CINCINNATI -- Eleven weeks into the season, Ben Mauk can finally make it through a full practice. His timing is perfect.

The quarterback dubbed "Bionic Ben" because of all the metal in his passing arm is rounding into form with the two biggest games ahead. No. 21 Cincinnati (8-2) plays No. 5 West Virginia (8-1) on Saturday in a game with Big East title implications.

The outcome will have a lot to do with Mauk, who couldn't even toss a football one year ago.

"I'm trying hard not to think about it right now," Mauk said. "Every once in a while, I'll think about it. Everything that's happened here in the last year is kind of amazing. I don't want to get caught up in it now."

He's playing so well that it's easy to forget how far he's come.

Mauk was Wake Forest's starting quarterback last season but failed to make it through the opener. He tried to recover a running back's fumble and wound up getting the worst of a pile up. His right arm was broken and his shoulder dislocated when two defenders landed on him.

Doctors installed a metal plate with eight screws to help the fracture heal, leaving a long, thick scar that runs the length of his misshapen biceps. Three metal anchors helped the shoulder heal correctly.

He transferred to Cincinnati because it was close to his Kenton, Ohio, home and new coach Brian Kelly was installing a spread offense. The question was whether his arm would recover enough to let him play.

The 22-year-old senior got a little better each day during fall football workouts and won the starting job. He had to sit out the third game of the season and part of the fourth because his arm was bothering him.

In the past six weeks, he'd made immense progress.

For the first time, Mauk didn't have to sit out any parts of practice last week to rest the arm and shoulder. He thinks that had something to do with his four-touchdown performance in a 27-3 victory over then-No. 16 Connecticut on Saturday.

"All week, I tried to focus and lock in and really break down the other team's defense," Mauk said. "It showed on Saturday. I just felt really confident and kept my composure during the game."

Kelly thinks the full week of practice helped Mauk a lot.

"It was strange that we were able to prepare in a normal fashion that you'd want your quarterback to prepare," Kelly said. "He had a great week. He was able to lock in and not worry about the physical end of things."

Mauk threw three touchdown passes and ran for another touchdown on a draw play, waving his arms wildly in celebration after reaching the end zone.

His teammates loved it.

"He brings a lot of energy," said safety Haruki Nakamura, considered the team's hardest hitter. "You see him score touchdowns and he's going ballistic. It makes the game that much more fun."

The Bearcats are having their best season since they went 8-1 and won the Missouri Valley Conference title in 1964. A victory over West Virginia would leave them in the running for the Big East title with one game left against Syracuse.

Mauk is one of the reasons they've come this far. His 21 touchdown passes are second in the conference to Louisville's Brian Brohm, who has 28. He also can run, and ranks third in the conference in total offense with 257 yards per game.

In the past two games, Mauk has thrown for six touchdowns with only one interception.

"I just keep developing more confidence in my arm," he said. "I realize now when I throw the ball that it's not going to fall off, my arm's not going to go flying. So I can just unleash on some of those passes."

It's only when teammates see that long, nasty scar that they're reminded of what he has overcome.

"The first time I saw the scar, I was like: What is that? Did you get a shark bite?" Nakamura said. "For someone to endure that sort of pain is unbelievable. To do what he's done this year is great. He's definitely become an impact player on this team. He brings that swagger."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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