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Drake Maye talks potential Sam Howell, UNC reunion in NFL on Washington Commanders

It is the elephant (or maybe, the Tar Heel) in the room.

As North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye enters the heart of draft season, the Myers Park High alum is among the top prospects at his position, and the Washington Commanders are on the hunt for an upgrade at quarterback under a new regime. If Maye turns out to be the Commanders’ top target, Washington could potentially reunite Maye with fellow Charlotte area native and former Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell in Landover, Maryland.

Maye and Howell have a friendship that dates all the way back to elementary school when the two quarterbacks were first discovering their love for sports.

So, would it be awkward if Maye was drafted — potentially with the second overall pick in April — to seemingly replace with his near-lifelong friend? If Maye thinks so, he’s certainly not airing out that concern in March.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Maye said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Sam has been a mentor to me in college, and it’s one of those things where there’s a lot bigger problems out there in the world than being with one of your best friends in the quarterback room. So, I think it’s not awkward for us. It’s just business.”

Former North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell greets North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) and the offensive unit after scoring their first touchdown against Appalachian State on Saturday, September 3, 2022 at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C. Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com
Former North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell greets North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) and the offensive unit after scoring their first touchdown against Appalachian State on Saturday, September 3, 2022 at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C. Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com

Maye, 21, served as Howell’s backup at North Carolina during the 2021 season. During that time, Maye learned from Howell, who left for the NFL in 2022, opening up an opportunity for Maye to shine. Maye went on to throw for 7,929 yards and 62 touchdowns during his two-year stint as Howell’s successor in Chapel Hill.

Maye, listed as 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, looks back at his time behind Howell as a learning experience that helped shape him as an eventual starter. If Washington were to select Maye in the draft, history could repeat itself in the NFC East.

“It was huge — learning how to prepare, learning how to create relationships, handle all of the media,” Maye said. “Sam was in the spotlight, one of the elite guys in college football. So, it was fun to sit behind Sam and he’s become one of my best friends.”

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye and former quarterback Sam Howell sit behind the North Carolina bench during the Tar Heels’ game against Duke on Saturday, February 4, 2023 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com
North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye and former quarterback Sam Howell sit behind the North Carolina bench during the Tar Heels’ game against Duke on Saturday, February 4, 2023 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com

Maye met with the Commanders, Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos this week in Indianapolis.

If Maye were to go to the Giants — who own the sixth overall pick in the first round — he could possibly compete for the starting quarterback job with another Charlotte native: Daniel Jones.

“It’s just really a small world from Charlotte — so many guys — Daniel Jones, and Sam Howell, all these guys,” Maye said. “I don’t think people give enough credit to Charlotte, it’s a great area of football, and just North Carolina, I think really has been slept on.”