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Shane Sandefur / FWAA
Georgia redshirt sophomore D'Wan Mathis could be in line for his first career start at Arkansas in the season-opening game.

D’Wan ‘The Miracle’ Mathis, a Georgia football comeback story like no other

ATHENS — D’Wan “The Miracle” Mathis.

The Georgia football redshirt freshman has yet to play a snap of college ball, but Bulldogs’ social media followers have already tabbed the redshirt freshman quarterback with a nickname.

Kirby Smart said he’s rooting for all of his players, like any other coach, but he knows better than anyone that Mathis’ story is special.

Brain surgery

We don’t pull for him more just because he’s had the brain surgery, I’m not saying that,” Smart said last week.  “[D’Wan] has been through so much. He’s a bright-eyed, talented kid. There are a lot of guys who have confidence in D’Wan.”

RELATED: Why D’Wan Mathis should start at Arkansas

Indeed, the former metro Detroit high school star could be in line to start the opening game at Arkansas next Saturday, just one year after an extensive rehabilitation following emergency brain surgery in May of 2019.

Mathis’ has earned it with his resilience, fighting his way back onto the practice field last season to earn scout team reps by November, giving himself a chance for the opportunity that’s upon him.

WATCH: D’Wan Mathis throws dart in Georgia football practice

Mathis, who dropped some 15 pounds following his surgery and stint in ICU after the brain surgery, has worked himself back into prime condition at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds.

Nimble on his feet and explosive in the open field, Mathis also possesses a big arm and an unmistakable level of emotion on the field.

At times, Mathis has looked dynamic. Other occasions, he resembles a redshirt freshman who hasn’t played a meaningful snap in almost two years and is learning a brand-new offense.

Smart said he has been impressed with all of his quarterbacks.

Redshirt sophomore JT Daniels brings the most experience to the table — albeit still in a knee brace and not yet cleared for the opener  — while freshman Carson Beck has also shared a unique blend of athleticism and arm talent.

Regardless of who starts in the UGA opening game at Arkansas on Sept. 26, Mathis’ story is one to behold from the time he signed with the Bulldogs in 2019

ROAD TO GEORGIA

Mathis’ recruitment was filled with bumps, from the time he received his first offers in eighth grade from Akron and Cincinnati.

Indeed, Mathis had commitments and de-commitments from Iowa State, to Michigan State and finally Ohio State before signing with Georgia in December of 2018.

Mathis said the Buckeyes did what they could to keep him, going so far as to tell him they were not talking to eventual Buckeyes’ transfer Justin Fields.

“I called before I went in to sign, I had papers from both schools in front of me,” Mathis said. “… I asked if they were talking to Justin Fields, and I got a ‘No’ ”

Mathis, however, said all signs on social media suggested otherwise.

He was originally enticed by Georgia during an unofficial visit on July 15, 2017. It was a quick stop by recruiting standards, but it served a purpose.

It was a visit D’Wan always kept in the back of his mind for reasons he couldn’t even explain until the circumstances played out. 

Was it always meant to be?

“Every day at Georgia will be a new adventure,” Mathis told DawgNation shortly after he signed with the Bulldogs in December of 2018. “It’s all about opportunity.”

G-DAY SHOWCASE

Georgia fans got a preview of Mathis’ talents in the 2019 G-Day Game in Sanford Stadium.

Mathis didn’t know it at the time, but it would become the most important game of his life, providing a moment he would often reflect on.

“My last game was G-Day (last April), and I look back and watch film on that every day,” Mathis said after the 2020 Sugar Bowl. “I just think, ‘Wow, I really took this for granted.’ None of this is promised These people around me, I would have never seen them again.”

Mathis was 15-of-28 passing for 113 yards with an interception in that 2019 spring scrimmage game, which now seems like a lifetime ago.

But it was the athleticism Mathis showed on a trick play that most remember.

Receiver Matt Landers completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Mathis off a double-reverse throwback pass, the highlight of the scrimmage.

“He brings another element,” Smart said that day, “because he has really good legs and really good feet. We might mix him in there at wideout some.”

Then-returning quarterback Jake Fromm was going into his junior season firmly entrenched as the starter, his 2018 passing efficiency numbers second-highest among the returning Qbs in the nation.

Mathis went to work in the offseason intent on winning the No. 2 spot on the roster, eager to learn under the wing of Fromm.

“D’Wan, he’s explosive,” Fromm said after 2019 spring drills. “I think he converted three or four first downs in a row with his legs.

“The guy can run the ball, he can throw it 70 yards, he’s going to be a great player.”

Headache from heaven

When D’Wan Mathis told the Georgia trainers on May 23, 2019, he was experiencing severe headaches, UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson suspected more.

Mathis was rushed to the Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center where an MRI revealed fluid build-up around his brain. Within hours, the surgery took place, the telltale headaches a blessing in disguise.

Smart, himself, took action, overseeing and ensuring the Mathis’ family transportation from Detroit to Athens that same day.

RELATED: Kirby Smart personally oversees Mathis Family crisis

Terence Mathis, D’Wan’s father, has said several times over how fortunate he feels his son is at Georgia.

“We thank God for Ron Courson’s expertise and his medical team, because without them I don’t think all of this would have been possible for D’Wan,” Terence Mathis said after the surgery. “I believe Georgia saved my son’s life.”

Smart recently recalled the hospital scene when he visited the debilitated freshman quarterback.

“I still remember going to see him in the hospital with all his family members were down seeing him,” Smart said. “It was a scary, scary moment. I forget what his weight went down to, but I know he got really skinny.”

Mathis went from curiosity to afterthought for most in the fanbase.

After all, who plays football again after having brain surgery?

THE COMEBACK

Mathis had lost more than 10 pounds when he released from the intensive care unit four days after surgery. Five weeks of antibiotics and rehabilitation followed, UGA setting Mathis up in a special room.

RELATED: Why Terence Mathis says Georgia saved his son’s life

Walking, balancing, running — as well as neurological testing and exams — became a daily part of Mathis’ life as he worked furiously to get back to rejoining the team by the start of fall drills.

The life-threatening event stayed fresh in D’Wan’s mind, and he viewed his comeback to football as an opportunity to make the most of his life.

“The honest truth, waking up in a hospital bed, and seeing my parents, and seeing how my head looked and everything, man, it was humbling,” said Mathis, whose skull surgery involved a metal plate secured by screws.

“I was like, wow you are so blessed, be thankful that you are still here.”

RELATED: How D’Wan Mathis overcame brain surgery

A special helmet awaited Mathis at practice, even though though he was by no means cleared for contact.

There was, however, no spot on the bus for road games, and that was challenging. It was as though a superpower had been stripped from Mathis, a major part of his life-long identity had been as a sports star.

Mathis contemplated leaving the team before the Missouri game last November, before on second thought, he trusted his father’s judgement to stay with the team and trust the process.

“I want the public to know this, please write this: Georgia could have given up on my son,” Terence Mathis said of D’Wan’s decision to stay with the team.

“But instead, Kirby and his staff have treated D’Wan as though he was their own son. They’ve used every possible resource to stay behind him and keep him engaged with the team after saving his life.”

QUARTERBACK COMPETITION

For all of the hype about Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman’s arrival at Georgia last January, the word coming out of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall was that Mathis was more impressive throwing the football.

“The ball just comes out of his hand a different way,” one source said about Mathis’ big arm.

The Bulldogs weren’t in pads and were limited to skeleton drills and voluntary workouts, but Mathis’ physical health and skills were improving.

When other players returned to their hometowns after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a shutdown in March, Mathis stayed and lived in Athens over the summer.

Mathis was granted a special exemption from the NCAA to remain on campus where he could continue to be monitored closely by Courson and the UGA training and medical staff.

“I know during the COVID time, he was one of the guys who worked extremely hard,” Smart said. “He would go out and just throw on his own and send us videos of him throwing on his own. So, he’s a really hard worker.”

Mathis had been cleared to practice at the end of the 2019 season and into the Sugar Bowl prep, but he wasn’t cleared to return to tackle football until last May.

A series of MRI tests and medical experts from around the country studied his case and charts closely.

“We had to go to like six NFL doctors to look at the scans and see the healing in his skull to be able to clear him,” Smart said.

There are more tests ahead for Mathis, from handling a brand-new playbook, to learning to deal with his sudden fame and the great expectations that come with all of it.

The Georgia quarterback situation figures to remain competitive each week, to the extent of some controversy in the fan base

But when Mathis goes under center for the first time in his collegiate career and takes a snap at quarterback, everyone will agree they are witnessing a truly miraculous moment.

D’Wan Mathis football stories

WATCH: D’Wan Mathis creates G-Day Buzz with promising performance

D’Wan Mathis rehab photos, the story of the young QB’s fight to return

D’Wan Mathis arrives in Athens ready for adventure

Ready to fit in at Georgia, D’Wan Mathis brings team-first approach

D’Wan Mathis cleared for game action

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