Mind Game: Georgia QB D’Wan Mathis overcoming brain surgery, eager to compete
ATHENS — Georgia quarterback D’Wan Mathis has admittedly been humbled.
Having to face his own mortality at just 18 years old last spring, the pending UGA quarterback derby doesn’t seem so daunting.
Fact is, the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Mathis could have the inside track during spring drills with Jake Fromm moving on to the NFL. The Bulldogs are expected to modify their offense with a more mobile quarterback next season.
Happy to be alive
First things first, Mathis will tell you he’s happy just to be alive and back to playing football after a severe migraine triggered emergency surgery last May.
The UGA medical staff quickly recognized dangerous symptoms when Mathis came to them with a headache and rushed him to Piedmont Hospital in Athens where doctors removed a cyst on his brain.
“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.”
The story of Mathis’ amazing recovery and the support he received from Kirby Smart and UGA medical director Ron Courson has been well-documented.
Terence Mathis, D’Wan’s father, states simply that “Georgia saved my son’s life.”
That is why Terence encouraged his son to see the process through with the Bulldogs, even when things grew lonely and seemed hopeless for D’Wan, football no longer the centerpiece of his life.
Trusting the process
The freshman from Metro Detroit contemplated leaving UGA in November before the Missouri game. But on second thought, he trusted his father’s judgement and the Georgia coaches’ game plan for him.
It was the second time Mathis placed his trust in Georgia. The first was in December of 2018, when Ohio State was denying interest in Justin Fields and encouraging Mathis to sign with the Buckeyes on the early signing date.
Mathis, once an Ohio State commit, had heard a different message about Fields’ dealings with the Buckeyes. After reviewing social media channels, Mathis opted to sign with Georgia.
But trusting the Bulldogs’ coaches the second time around last November was as much about Mathis learning to trust himself, and to be willing to grow his self-identity beyond football.
“It was like, am I going to sit here and sulk over this, or am I going to look at this in a way to make this a positive?” Mathis said after Georgia’s 26-14 Sugar Bowl win over Baylor on Jan. 1 in New Orleans.
“At first, I found myself sad and down, but then I was like, what about the people around you? How can I become a better teammate? How can I push the guys around me by playing scout team?”
Getting up to speed
Mathis still isn’t cleared for full contact, but he’s been back in full gear and practicing for a couple of months.
Mathis has regained his tremendous speed and arm strength after a tedious and careful rehabilitation program that began after he was released from the intensive care unit following the surgery.
Georgia has sought out some of the top medical experts to help monitor Mathis’ progress. There are more MRIs ahead, but Mathis said he expects to be totally cleared in May.
“My last game was G-Day (last April), and I look back and watch film on that every day,” Mathis said. “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.”
But now Mathis sees them every day, and he’s back to being one of the guys. Just like the majority of his teammates, Mathis will be engaged in a spirited competition for playing time this spring.
Redshirt junior Stetson Bennett is the most experienced of the returning quarterbacks, and he has some escapability within his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame.
Then there’s incoming freshman Carson Beck, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Jacksonville. Beck also possesses the sort of athleticism needed to run the RPOs Georgia figures to ingrain more of into its offense.
Mathis’ athleticism and arm strength are notable, even if there is work to do with accuracy and consistency.
Mathis is well aware the Bulldogs will likely bring in a graduate transfer quarterback. He welcomes the competition and having more talent in the quarterbacks room.
Following the example Fromm set for him, Mathis focuses on becoming the best he can be and embraces every workout period afforded to him.
“I’ve been working so hard every day to get back to this point, to just be able practice,” Mathis said. “Because, for a while I couldn’t walk. And for a while I couldn’t run. So once I started getting my legs back under me, I realized I could do this.”
Eager to ‘Do More’
Mathis said he wants to get up to 215 pounds, so he can “use my abilities to run around a little bit and be able to take some shots.”
That’s the day Mathis can’t wait for, the first time he’s allowed to be tackled and taken down to the turf.
That’s the kind of football D’Wan Mathis wants to play. Just talking about the Bulldogs’ Sugar Bowl performance got him excited.
“On this team, there’s a lot of guys sacrificing, and a lot of people don’t know that,” Mathis said in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“Everybody on this team has bought into Kirby, and when he says ‘Do More,’ like tonight, it was ‘Out-hit, Out-hustle.’ That’s all we preached the whole week, was out-hit, out-hustle, and man, we did that.”
Mathis is ready to out-hit, out-hustle, and this spring, to out-work.
“This injury took me to becoming a completely different person,” Mathis said. “I’m mentally much stronger than when I first got here. At first when Kirby would yell at me, I’d be like, man, why is he yelling at me?
“Now, I look at it that Kirby cares about me, and he wants me to play for him and make big plays. I can’t thank him enough.”
From Smart’s perspective, Mathis’ positive attitude, work on the scout team and continued development is thanks enough.
Smart credited Mathis for helping Georgia’s defense prepare for Auburn dual-threat quarterback. The Bulldogs shut out the Tigers for three quarters en route to the pivotal 21-14 victory last November.
“D’Wan’s been scout-team quarterback the last couple of weeks now and has done a tremendous job,” Smart said last November. “He helped with the Bo Nix scout team stuff. He’s able to simulate some of these guys we’ve played, so that has been a big bonus for us.”
It might only be a matter of time before opponents are finding quarterbacks to simulate Mathis in the Georgia offense.