July 10, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
After a history lesson that Shaq Mason did not see coming, Georgia Tech’s top offensive lineman is emboldened to where he might want to be a running back.
Seriously (sort of), after the senior right guard was added to the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, a question was posed: Hey big fella, what do you know about the history of the Outland?
“I don’t know too much; I know it’s given for the top lineman,” he said.
Indeed; the Outland is awarded annually to the nation’s top interior lineman – offensive or defensive – as voted by the Football Writers Association of America.
But who knew that John H. Outland was an outstanding blocker and ball carrier?
Mason didn’t. Outland’s days in the sun preceded those of former Tech coach John Heisman, after all, so we’re going back well over 100 years.
“That’s unreal; that’s crazy,” he said after being told Outland won All-America honors as a tackle at Penn in 1897 and then took AA honors as a halfback in 1898.
All this got Mason to thinking.
The backup spot behind B-back Zach Laskey is unsettled, and a certain 6-foot-1 ½, 303-pound plow was quite a ball carrier in all those pickup games as a lad.
So maybe . . .
“I might have to bring that up in the next meeting [with head coach Paul Johnson and others sure to have differing opinions],” Mason said with a hardy laugh. “I was always big, and I was kind of fast. Nobody could tackle me.”
Tech has sent up Outland candidates over the years.
Mason’s predecessor at right guard, Omoregie Uzzi, made watch lists in 2011 and ’12. Center Sean Bedford (’10), offensive lineman Andrew Gardner (’08) and defensive tackle Vance Walker (’08) also drew recent preseason attention.
Mason may or may not have known of all that.
Since the Outland Trophy came onto the scene in 1946, it has most frequently gone to corn-and beef-fed boys from the Midwest.
Outland was a Kansas native, and nine times Nebraska players have won the award he conceived before his death in ’47. Oklahoma players have won five, Ohio State four and so on.
Tech has never produced an Outland winner.
John H. Outland was a corn and beef man, and Mason knew nothing of him until he was offered unsolicited history.
He really hasn’t given much thought to such things.
The 2013 first team All-ACC selection – who along with senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy will represent Tech at the ACC’s media days in Greensboro on July 20-21 – has been locked in while preparing for his final collegiate season.
“I’m overly anxious, honestly,” he said. “I’m just ready to get going, and put pads back on. We’ve put in all this work. [After July 4th] we transitioned Tuesday and Thursday workouts from morning to 4:30 in the sun to get ready [for practices]. Everybody knows the season is right there so the competition level is way higher.
“I’ve done a lot of work getting my lower body stronger, and working on my footwork. I do a lot of resistance drills, like putting a band around my ankles and going through steps, pass sets, hitting the sleds with the bands.”
See there; Mason has been working on footwork!
This seems natural, right?
It’s not like he has not spent time deploying greater athletic skills than would typically be associated with offensive line play. He’s multi-talented.
Before giving up basketball and baseball after his sophomore year at Columbia Central High School (Tenn.), “because I started getting recruited for football,” he said, the big guy was more than a space-eater.
He had a swing.
Mason started at third base for the varsity baseball team as a sophomore. He had some power, and was a fairly slick fielder.
Dude was a swing man as well. He came off the bench for the varsity basketball team as a sophomore, and no, he wasn’t just a power forward. He also played small forward at times.
He’s still a shooter.
When several Tech football players take to the court at the Campus Recreation Center, Mason does more than bang bodies.
Teammates Demond Smith, Brandon Oliver and Darren Waller may be recognized as more well-rounded hoopsters (the football Jackets stop playing basketball in April for sake of injury prevention), yet Mason leaves a mark – occasionally as a marksman.
“I do a little bit of both [inside and outside the 3-point line],” he said.
Mason’s more nimble than you might think.
But he’s not a knucklehead.
Mason has a pretty good idea what Johnson would say if he asked the head coach about toting the rock.
“He’d tell me to stop joking,” Shaq said, “and to get back on the line.”
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