D’Wan Mathis lifts up his shirt to show the reminder he sees every day about what he’s gone through.
He put it in ink on his stomach, a tattoo of the date--May 23, 2019--when his life changed drastically.
“Nothing is promised, nobody is going to give you anything,” Mathis said. “If you want something, you’ve got to go take it. During my recovery, that’s what I thought about every day. I’ve got to get back and take what’s mine. Do what I’ve got to do to play again.”
It’s a slow process back for the redshirt freshman quarterback after a brain cyst sent him to the hospital for surgery on that Thursday before Memorial Day weekend.
Mathis had a strong showing a month earlier at the G-Day spring game, putting him in position as an option as a backup in 2019 and in the mix whenever Jake Fromm’s college career ended.
Instead, the health scare kept him from playing in a game this past season and left his playing future in doubt.
“Once you get hurt, it’s kind of you by yourself. It’s kind of you in your room in the dark,” Mathis said. “You’ve got to figure out where this is going to take you. My injury took me to becoming a whole another person. I’m mentally way stronger than when I first got here.”
Mathis, from Belleville, Mich., about 30 miles from Detroit, got by with the help of Georgia director of sports medicine Ron Courson and staff, coach Kirby Smart and his teammates.
“Kirby and Ron, they stayed by my side through it all,” Mathis said. “Kirby says it every day that I’ve been working so hard every day to get back to this point and be able to just practice. For a while, I wasn’t even practicing. For a while, I couldn’t walk. For a while, I couldn’t run. Once I started getting my legs back under me, man, it was like ‘Wow, I can really do this.’”
Georgia seems to have found its starting quarterback for 2020 in Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman, but he will have to earn the job in spring practices and in the preseason.
Mathis, who was 15 of 28 for 113 yards in the G-Day game when he showed his ability as a runner and even hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass, would like to factor in the picture at quarterback.
That would be another big step in many small ones for a player who flipped from Ohio State to Georgia on signing day in December of 2018.
He said roommate Tyrique Stevenson was among many to offer encouragement along the way.
“It was a lot of guys,” Mathis said. “When I came back in the locker room, everybody told me it’s going to be all right. You’re going to be back before you know it.”
He was given the OK to get in scout team work against the defense in October but has held out of any contact in practice. He was able to help Georgia prepare for opponents.
“It was a step up in clearance when he could go 11-on-11 and throw the ball and give us a look,” Smart said.
The 6-foot-6 Mathis isn’t sure when he will get cleared to be able to practice without limitations.
“I have no idea. I’m just waiting for the doctor and I’m waiting for her to clear me,” he said. “That’s really the biggest thing.”
Smart said Courson and staff are consulting with “three or four medical experts,” including one from the NFL and another a Harvard doctor that are “nationally renowned for this craniotomy surgery and pool together to decide what is best.”
Smart said due to radiation, doctors want to limit the number of scans for Mathis.
“They have benchmarks and points to hit and do in time which they’ve done,” Smart said. “They want to see the recovery and healing.”
Mathis is hoping to add 10 pounds to his 205-pound frame before spring practices.
“I want to be able to use my ability to run around a little bit, be able to take some shots,” he said. “In the SEC, there are some big guys out there.”
He said he doesn’t plan to let his early setback hold him back long term.
“Hopefully in the fall,” he said, “I’ll be able to come back and give these guys everything I’ve got.”