College Sports

Before UNC’s Luke Maye became a household name, his father was one of nation’s top high school QBs

In high school, Mark Maye was a three-sport star at Independence before attending North Carolina, where he was the Tar Heels’ quarterback in the mid-1980s.
In high school, Mark Maye was a three-sport star at Independence before attending North Carolina, where he was the Tar Heels’ quarterback in the mid-1980s. The Charlotte Observer

Long before North Carolina basketball player Luke Maye’s newfound celebrity, his father was one of the most celebrated high school athletes in North Carolina almost 40 years ago.

From 1979-82, Mark Maye compiled one of the most impressive athletic resumes in state history. He was all-state in baseball and basketball. But in football, his best sport, Maye developed into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.

“Mark was an exceptional player, probably what we thought was the best player coming out (of high school) that year,” Randy Walker, then North Carolina’s offensive coordinator, told the Observer in 1982. “He was one of the best I ever saw.”

In 1982, during his senior year at Independence High in Mint Hill, Maye passed for 2,353 yards and 19 touchdowns in 11 games. Those numbers might seem modest now, but they were eye-popping at a time when most teams primarily ran the ball.

He finished his career with 4,435 yards passing, a Mecklenburg County record that stood for 10 years. In the 1982 Shrine Bowl, an All-Star game that matches the top high school seniors in North and South Carolina, Maye set three game records, completing 29-of-51 passes for 311 yards.

And he did it in a driving rain and on a muddy field at Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium.

“The field was in terrible shape,” N.C. coach Glenn Nixon said then. “I knew he was a good quarterback, but...”

After his senior year, Maye won several national awards, including one presented to him by former NFL star O.J. Simpson. Maye was named Associated Press N.C. Player of the Year and narrowed his college choices to North Carolina and Alabama.

Former Observer columnist Tom Sorensen wrote: “When he signed with (the Tar Heels), fans responded as if James Worthy had agreed to play for Dean Smith. Maye, 6-4 and about 200 pounds, was a symbol as much as a player. If the Tar Heels could sign a quarterback Alabama wanted, the program, as advertised, really was on its way.”

Said Dick Crum, then North Carolina’s coach: “One of the things that made us think we were going to be nationally prominent was the fact that Mark Maye went here.”

Maye’s career at North Carolina was derailed by injuries, first to his thumb and then his throwing shoulder. He had his best season as a junior, when he completed 110-of-176 passes for 1,401 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1986.

Around Charlotte even today, Maye, 52, is remembered for his storied high school career. Until Sunday, when Luke’s jump shot sent North Carolina advancing to this weekend’s Final Four in Phoenix, Luke Maye was Mark Maye’s son.

But now is seems Mark Maye is more likely to be referred to as Luke Maye’s dad.

Mark Maye was at last week’s South Regional in Memphis with his family. The Mayes sat four rows behind the Tar Heels’ bench, and when Kentucky’s Malik Monk made a tough 3-pointer to tie the game late, Mark Maye said he wasn’t sure the Tar Heels had enough time to score.

“I kind of lost track of time,” Mark Maye said. “But I saw Luke running down the sideline and said, ‘Hey, he might get a chance to get the ball in his hands.’ Theo (Pinson) dished it off to Luke and Luke put it up, and I said, ‘You know what, it looks pretty good.’ And then it went in.”

And then arguably the best high school athlete from Charlotte became more popular for being a parent than a player.

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr