Huge game propels Auburn’s Mason to New York

Auburn coaches kept checking on the sidelines: How is Tre?

Carry after carry, touchdown after touchdown, Tre Mason

tirelessly demonstrated in the Southeastern Conference championship

game against Missouri that he could handle the load for the

second-ranked Tigers.

”Tre had that look on his face,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn

said. ”In between series, I’d go ask him, `You OK?’ He said,

`Coach, keep giving it to me. We’re going to win the SEC

championship.’ He had that look in his eyes. We weren’t going to

take him out unless he took himself out.”

Mason delivered as promised. The junior tailback carried Auburn

(12-1) to a national title shot against Florida State with 46

rushes, 304 yards, four touchdowns and two Heisman poses.

He also earned himself a trip to New York as one of six Heisman

Trophy finalists, joining tailback Andre Williams (Boston College)

and quarterbacks Jameis Winston (Florida State), AJ McCarron

(Alabama, Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois) and Johnny Manziel

(Texas A&M).

That marathon performance in the Georgia Dome came a week after

the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Mason ran 29 times for 164 yards against

Alabama’s normally unyielding defense. Delivering on those huge

stages carried into the national spotlight a tailback often

overshadowed in the SEC by players like Georgia’s Todd Gurley and

Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon.

”He’s one of the best players in college football, there’s no

doubt,” Malzahn said.

But Mason had largely floated under the national radar, and was

only a preseason second-team All-SEC pick. A week earlier, Malzahn

said quarterback Nick Marshall ”should be in the mix” for the

Heisman. Mason vaulted past his teammate.

Twice a 1,000-yard rusher, he became an overnight sensation.

Bo Jackson, Auburn’s 1985 Heisman winner, gave him high praise

after the performance.

”He was like, `You’re probably one of the best players to ever

put on an Auburn helmet,”’ Mason said. ”He just was thanking me

for being here. I was thanking him for being a mentor to me.”

Mason is chasing down Jackson’s records. His 1,621 rushing

yards, sixth-best nationally, are 165 yards behind Jackson’s record

set during the Heisman season. Mason’s 22 rushing touchdowns are

one behind the SEC record set by Florida’s Tim Tebow en route to

the 2007 Heisman.

Mason, who also returns kicks, has already set the school mark

with 2,137 all-purpose yards for the nation’s top rushing team.

”I don’t want to say I expected it, but I’ve worked toward

it,” said Mason, who is considering skipping his senior season to

enter the NFL draft. ”There’s a lot of goals and dreams that I

have. I remember saying my goal at the beginning of the season was

1,500 yards. And people said, Oh, that’s too much. Whatever you put

your mind to, you can do it. I’ve surpassed that and I’m looking

forward to keep doing.”

He learned the mind-set of aiming high from his parents, Tina

and Vincent Mason. Vincent Mason is a member of the hip hop group

De La Soul, but Mason remembers living in New York with his

grandmother before his father’s music career took off.

”My dad being who he is also made me more hungry, because he

started from the bottom,” Mason said. ”He’s come from nothing and

he’s worked his way up. He doesn’t give us everything (on) a silver

spoon. He makes us work for everything we have to make us as hungry

as he was.”

He demurs when asked if he’s now the most famous person in his

family. ”Nah, my dad has a lot more experience than me,” Mason

said. ”He’s a legend.”

Mason wasn’t even in the Heisman conversation until the final

two games. He ran for 1,002 yards as a sophomore, but split carries

with Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne – not to mention

1,000-yard rusher Marshall – early in the season.

Three games in, he had 206 yards and two touchdowns.

Mason, who also scored on a 100-yard kickoff return in the

opener against Washington State, has picked good times to shine. In

four games against Top 10 teams, Mason has averaged 194.5 yards and

scored eight touchdowns.

He’s embracing his newfound acclaim nationally.

”It’s a whole lot of fun,” said Mason, who was named SEC

offensive player of the year by AP. ”Just playing the game that I

love and just getting rewarded for it, it can’t get any better than

that.”