Jake Maier: The Unselfish Leader Of UC DAvis Football
For some, quarterback is the most important position in football. For others, football itself is the very epitome of being a team. From the moment I start talking to Jake Maier, it’s clear which side he falls on. Last weekend, the UC Davis quarterback became the second player in program history to throw for over 10,000 yards. However, he wants none of the glory for himself.
“It means a lot to the team. Whenever you reach a milestone like that as an offense, it’s really really special and means that we’ve been doing a lot of good things here in the last couple of years. Like I said, it’s more of a team accomplishment in my mind, just because, I’m just a part of the equation here when it comes to passing the football and getting yards. It’s really a team accomplishment.”
The UC Davis football team, with Maier as a captain, has been doing a lot of good things in the last couple years. Those things culminated in a first ever trip to the FCS Playoffs for the program in 2018. It was the high point of a journey for Maier that started, some years ago, seven hours down the coast from UC Davis Health Stadium in Fullerton, California
Family the first team for Jake Maier
Maier has been surrounded by a close team from a young age, his family. That influence has made him the leader he is today.
“My family was big for me. I had both parents live in the house, two younger brothers, and aunts and uncles, grandparents that lived within 20 minutes of each other. So, the family was super close. It wasn’t really that important what we were doing, whatever sport or activity, all that mattered was that we worked really hard and we had a lot of fun doing it. I really think I am who I am today because of that.”
Maier took that hard work and fun approach in to St. Paul High School. An avid baseball fan, he played both football and baseball at St. Paul and admits he could have taken a different turn in his life.
“There was a point there where baseball was looking like a possibility for my future. My first love growing up was baseball. Football came kinda when I got in to High School. Baseball was always a passion of mine. My father was a women’s softball coach for a Division II program in California so I grew up with the sport. The sport means a lot to me, and was really the foundation of who I am as an athlete.”
Where baseball was the foundation, he excelled on the football field. In his senior year he combined for 1569 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, earning team MVP honours. Maier was aware that football would give him more opportunities to progress to a better university.
From California to Connecticut and back
The first opportunity would be short lived.
“I got recruited after the signing period out here. It didn’t come until after signing day when a school reached out to me, Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. They offered me a scholarship to go play out there. At the time it was really all I had. I was very thankful for that opportunity and it got my foot in the door when it came to college football. It helped me out a lot, taught me a lot of things, really more so off the field. Like, who I am, and how I need to carry myself, and how I hard I need to work in order to reach a certain point.”
The journey across the nation from California to Connecticut was to be for just one season. For 2016, Maier returned back to California to play junior college football for Long Beach City College.
Long Beach City College
“I ended up coming home and transferring to Long Beach City College and played a season at the junior college level.”
He set school records for passing yards (3689) and touchdowns (38), and added all-state honours to his resume, on his way to guiding LBCC to the Western State Bowl.
It’s a testament to his character that he never mentions those records once whilst reflecting fondly on his time there.
“That was a great time. That was some of the funnest times, just playing, that I’ve had in my college career, and really my whole athletic career. It was a good team that we had over there, good coaches, good people that were involved with the program.”
“I still reach out and talk to them all the time to this day. If they ever needed my help down the line, then I’d definitely be willing to help. It was a really fun time and it really made me a better player, It made me realise I could compete at that level.”
Competing at the FCS level
The next step would be to compete at the FCS level.
Maier had interest from several programs, but UC Davis were the first to reach out. They welcomed him with open arms, and Maier loved everything about the program on, and off, the field. The culture was there, with head coach Dan Hawkins the coaching was there, and there was a good team just waiting to be led.
In his first year with the program, Maier provided that leadership. He was voted the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year, won multiple Player of the Week Awards, and was on the Walter Payton Award watch list. His 306 completions broke a school record, as did his nine 300 yard+ games in the season.
It was all a pre-cursor to the 2018 season, his junior year.
“That was a journey man. That was some really exciting times. Everything kind of went our way. We won a lot of close games and we had a lot going for us. We had a team with a lot of good experience, and guys that were hungry, and things just kinda lined up for us.”
“I think if you want to win a championship, and you want to experience high levels of success, you have to have a little bit going for you, you know? You’ve gotta have the ball bounce a certain way sometimes and you’ve gotta have some good fortune along the way. You’ve gotta make sure everyone’s bought in for however long you’re gonna go. We were awesome at that last year. It was a great time. I’ll never forget that year.”
“That was one of the best years of my life. Regardless of how much we won, it was the joy of being here every day and working hard.”
Bringing home the Big Sky Championship
The hard work paid off for UC Davis with a Big Sky Conference Championship and a first trip to the FCS Playoffs, getting as far as the quarter finals.
Maier points to one game that stands out amongst the others in defining that Championship run.
“Idaho State. That was a really special moment for the team. We came back, we faced a lot of adversity that game, had a lot of guys banged up and ended up winning the game in overtime. That really decided our fate for the year. That game right there, really gave us some momentum and ultimately led us to a championship. That game is really, really special to me.”
For Maier, 2018 saw him crowned the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He was ranked in the top 10 of all FCS quarterbacks for passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completion percentage.
Currently he holds a number of program records, and is just 631 yards away from having the most passing yards of all time for UC Davis. Despite this, Maier acknowledges he still has work to do to hone his skills.
Always looking to improve
“I think I can improve with my feet. I think I can work on my overall quickness and pocket movement and arm strength. Just getting more experiences and getting more of a feel for avoiding rushes, and taking less sacks.”
“I think there’s always something that you can improve on.”
“The mechanics of throwing, and accuracy, all that stuff is something you can work on, on a day to day basis. The more experience you get, the more you can learn how to move your body in different areas to avoid contact, and avoid getting sacked, and extending the play.”
“That’s something that I’m going to work on in the off-season.”
FCS quarterbacks in the NFL
Maier came in to the 2019 season, his senior year, as one of the top FCS quarterback prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft. His play so far has reinforced that.
“I don’t know if it’s made it easier but it’s been inspiring for sure. They’re really opening the door for all of us and showing the world that this level is competent enough to send guys to the next level. It means a lot to us. We always support those guys every chance we get.”
“The NFL’s getting tougher every year, and you can’t predict who’s going to be next. All I know is that there are guys who came from the FCS who are thriving in the NFL, and that should be enough said. I think that’s really cool.”
It may be really cool but it isn’t something that he’s thinking about for himself right now.
“I’m not looking ahead. Not at all. It doesn’t matter to me yet. I’m all about this weekend, and kinda living in the moment the best you can, because that’s all we’ve got right now.”
Maier to lead UC Davis against Weber State this weekend
This weekend sees a tough, but crucial game in the season for UC Davis against Weber State.
The Wildcats are ranked 4th with a 5-2 record, and a mean defense. 2019 hasn’t started as well for UC Davis, and the Aggies sit 4-4. The Aggies have momentum, however, after two straight wins. A victory over a strong conference opposition before a bye week would be huge.
According to Maier, preparation is going well.
“Preparation is going really well. We had a good practice today. We’ve got to be super focused, and energised, and confident, and really believe in our game plan, and execute it at a high level.”
“Weber State is a great program, an elite program. They can play with just about anybody, at any level. They have a great D-line, and a great secondary, and are coached really well. Anytime you get that presented to you, it’s important that you, yourself, play at a high level, and be smart, and take care of the football.”
“If we can do all those things, which I believe we can, I think we’re going to have a good weekend. Whether that’s winning or losing, I can’t tell you, but I know that we’ll be prepared. We’ll play really hard and we’ll see what happens.”
An unselfish leader
I get to witness the preparation in action myself, of a fashion.
Mark Honbo, from media communications at UC Davis, texts me to tell me practice is wrapping up and Jake will be along shortly.
A couple of minutes later I receive another text:
“It will still be a little bit…he’s doing one-on-one drills with a teammate.”
It’s extra work after practice, helping another player, and therefore the team along.”
A very Jake Maier thing to do…incredibly unselfish player!”
There, in a nut shell, is Jake Maier.
He’s a great quarterback on the field, with the stats to back it up.
However, it’s the character and leadership that defines him as a man.
It’s something he’s rightly proud of.
“I’m really, really proud of who I am as a family person, kind of a family man. I do the best I can to guide my younger brothers through their journeys as athletes, and people.”
“There’s a handful of kids out there that’ve reached out to me and asked me for advice.”
“I take a lot of pride in taking those guys under my wing. Lord knows there’s been a lot of people help me out in my life, and I want to be able to give back.”
Special thanks to Jake Maier, and Mark Honbo, at UC Davis for taking the time to speak with us for this article.
College Football Writer
Oliver Hodgkinson is a college football writer for the touchdown. He also writes on the NFL for the Pro Football Network. You can hear his opinions on all things college football as one third of the college chaps podcast.