Boye Mafe has a simple philosophy about happiness.
"I just try to make one person smile," the Gophers defensive end said. "If I see someone who's down or is having a hard day or somebody who's frustrated, just by making somebody smile, that makes my day. … If I'm in a room with 20 people and one person in the room is sad, I can't be happy."
Of course, that doesn't necessarily apply to those in football stadiums on the road. Mafe, a former Hopkins standout, certainly didn't put a smile on the face of Nebraska's Adrian Martinez last Saturday. Instead, he helped make sure the Cornhuskers quarterback was down, frustrated and having a hard day.
The 6-4, 265-pound Mafe forced a fumble by Martinez late in the third quarter and sacked the quarterback early in the fourth, two plays that were instrumental in the Gophers securing a 24-17 victory at Memorial Stadium. Playing in his first game since Nov. 13, the junior from Golden Valley continued his improvement as a pass rusher and ran his sacks total to 4½ in five games played this season.
On Wednesday, Mafe, whose 0.90 sacks per game is the best rate in the Big Ten, earned all-conference honorable mention.
"He's certainly taking his pass-rush game to the next level," Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said. "Basically, every game he's played … he's gotten home [sacked the QB] in those games."
Against Nebraska, Mafe's pass-rush work came at the expense of Huskers redshirt freshman right tackle Bryce Benhart, a former Lakeville North standout. Benhart was recruited heavily by the Gophers — so much so that coach P.J. Fleck once took a helicopter to the southern suburb's stadium on a Friday night in 2017 to woo the lineman.
With the Gophers holding a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter and Nebraska facing third-and-10 from its 36-yard-line, Mafe sped past Benhart on the outside, turned toward the pocket and knocked the ball out of Martinez's right hand. The ball bounced forward, and Gophers end Thomas Rush recovered the fumble at the 40. Mafe was denied a sack because Martinez was given a 4-yard gain on the play.
After the turnover, Minnesota marched 39 yards for a touchdown that boosted its lead to 24-14.
Mafe's sack came on Nebraska's next possession, when he sped past Benhart and dropped Martinez for a 6-yard loss on third-and-10. That forced a punt, and the Huskers would get only one more possession.
"All game we were bull-rushing, setting the edge," Mafe said. "At that point, I felt it was time to set him up for something. I decided to go with a speed rush, and as I hit the speed rush, I noticed on my second or third step, I was hip to hip with him, and that's when I decided to take the corner."
Rossi was impressed, but he wants more from Mafe.
"I still think there's a tremendous ceiling, a tremendous upside for him," Rossi said. "I still believe he has more to give in the pass-rush game as he develops his moves. … We want to see him impact the run."
Mafe's development resumes Saturday when the Gophers (3-3) face Wisconsin (2-3) in Camp Randall Stadium with Paul Bunyan's Axe up for grabs. Mafe is eager for the rivalry game, which wasn't played Nov. 28 because of positive COVID-19 cases within the Minnesota program.
"With me being from Minnesota and a homegrown kid, this rivalry means everything to us. To have it taken away from us hurt. Now that it's back, it's time," said Mafe with a smile.