Michael Mason nearly gave up football as a third-grader, after a single season of playing, because of a poor relationship with his coach.
It took him three years to find his way back to football, and he returned in a big way.
“I scored like five touchdowns in my first middle-school game,” said Mason, who was an Eagle All-Metro running back selection at Mulvane in December. “I thought it was something I could do well.”
Mason committed himself to football, and the results, combined with a growth spurt, were evident on the field.
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“He’s been very dedicated athletically since he was in middle school,” Mulvane football coach Dave Fennewald said. “Football was his focus — in the weight room, and he ran track to be a better football player. He made himself into a very good football player.”
Saturday, Mason will play for the West squad in the Shrine Bowl, which is at 7 p.m. at Pittsburg State. The Shrine Bowl is an all-star football game for graduated seniors.
Mason’s senior numbers are gaudy. He had 2,232 rushing yards on 296 carries, 24 touchdowns and ran for 354 yards in a comeback playoff win at Collegiate.
The Mulvane record books have Mason’s name all over — most touchdowns in a game (six against Augusta in 2013), touchdowns in a season (24), points in a game (36) and season (170), yards in a season (2,232), rushing yards in a game and career (3,273) and rushing attempts in a game (40) and regular season (231).
Mason increased his workouts, putting in the time after practice or adding his own two-a-days during the offseason. He had his eye on those records, most of which were held by Huldon Tharp.
Tharp was a 2007 All-Metro selection as a junior but suffered a season-ending knee injury before his senior season in 2008. He went on to play at Kansas.
“Growing up in the Huldon Tharp era, he was accomplished as a running back and it gave me incentive to go for it,” Mason said. “When people thought of a running back, they thought of Huldon Tharp, and it’s something I wanted to take over and put my name up there.
“Breaking his records was a huge step and a huge accomplishment.”
Mason played varsity sporadically as a sophomore before becoming the starting running back as a junior. He rushed for 884 yards even as he battled ankle injuries.
Fennewald raves about the work he put in each offseason to improve.
“He made monstrous gains after his junior year,” Fennewald said. “His weight lifting — his squat, his bench, his clean. He was a load to tackle. At 210 pounds, he runs very, very well. He really saw the field well.”
Mason, who will play at Butler Community College, is 6-foot and now weighs 228 pounds.
He has quickness, endurance and strength, which is a combination that helped him lead Mulvane from 18 points down in the final nine minutes of a first-round Class 4A playoff game in 2013. He scored the game-winning touchdown.
“That was probably my most memorable feeling of my career,” Mason said. “… Being down almost 20 points in the fourth quarter and everyone getting that feeling of being ready to leave and get it over with.”
Mulvane, which has long been a spread offense with a focus on passing, went to a run-first mentality with Mason.
“He was our go-to guy on offense,” Fennewald said. “The thing is, teams knew he was our go-to guy. You knew you had to stop him. For him to get the yards he did as a marked man … he was phenomenal.”