It was just like old times.
Back in 2017, AJ Mayer zipped the football around, displaying impressive arm strength and tossing touchdowns to Jack Coldiron at Covington Catholic High School in Northern Kentucky.
Wednesday, he repeated that act in Southwest Ohio.
After starting quarterback Brett Gabbert left the season opener with a second-quarter injury, Mayer entered and starred, pushing the Miami RedHawks past Ball State, 38-31. Coldiron, a redshirt freshman in only his second career game, pitched in with two touchdowns.
Mayer finished with 212 passing yards and three scores.
“Obviously, it meant a lot,” Mayer, a redshirt sophomore, said. “It was a pretty surreal experience. I’ve been looking for that ever since I got to Miami.”
Head coach Chuck Martin said his staff didn’t change its offensive game plan for Mayer.
“Every time someone asks about Brett, I always say, ‘I feel like I’ve got two really good quarterbacks,’” Martin said. “AJ, this offseason, even though it was so choppy, was really dedicated to really competing and trying to beat Brett out and then being really prepared ... Then, he gets his shot, and then he plays his stinking tail off.”
Mayer competed against Gabbert and Jackson Williamson for the starting quarterback job before the 2019 season but lost and spent most of the year as No. 3 in the pecking order. He saw action in three games but never attempted a pass.
After Williamson transferred last winter, Mayer climbed to the backup role, and it took less than one half of football in the 2020 season for him to find the field.
“Obviously, my first (thought) was I hope he’s OK,” Mayer said about Gabbert’s injury. “I know that, at first, he was kind of just laying there on the ground, and I was like, ‘Holy crap, I hope he’s obviously OK.’ Then, (tight ends coach Pat Welsh) came out to me and said, ‘Hey, warm up.’ I was like, ‘All right, this is it. It’s time to go.’”
Gabbert did not return to the contest, and his status for next Tuesday’s game at Buffalo is undetermined.
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“I talked to him at halftime,” Martin said. “He was very alert. He was walking around, so they didn’t have him in the dark room.”
In Gabbert’s absence, Mayer fired a 10-yard completion to redshirt junior tight end Adam Mehelic on his first career throw and led the RedHawks’ first scoring drive of the young season.
But early in the third quarter, Miami trailed 21-10.
That’s when Mayer reignited his connection with Coldiron, scoring two touchdowns and giving the RedHawks the lead permanently.
“It felt really good,” Mayer said of playing with Coldiron. “I mean, we do a lot in practice, too, so I’m always with him, but it means a lot to the community, I’m sure. It was really awesome to see it, especially since it’s been three years since I’ve thrown him a touchdown — since my senior year of high school. It was a really cool experience.”
Just like old times.