Auburn’s Mason ready for moment in spotlight
by Charles Bennett
Dec 21, 2011 | 7346 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUBURN — With Mike Dyer out of the lineup at tailback for Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, freshman Tre Mason will get his moment in the spotlight.

He says he’s definitely ready for it.

“It’s exciting to have a chance to play,” Mason said. “I was always looking for this chance and I’m just going to do the best I can to contribute for this team. I’m 100 percent ready for this.”

Dyer, a sophomore who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, was suspended indefinitely earlier this month for an undisclosed violation of teams rules.

He is definitely out for the Dec. 31 bowl game with Virginia, and his return to the team remains uncertain.

That leaves Auburn with two experienced tailbacks for the bowl game — Mason and Onterio McCalebb.

Dyer, used primarily as a between the tackles runner, racked up 1,242 yards on 242 carries, while McCalebb, the fastest player on the team, was used primarily as the Tigers’ speed option on sweeps and rushed for 532 yards on 102 carries.

Mason, a combination of the top two style-wise, was the Tigers’ No. 3 tailback, rushing for 102 yards on 19 carries.

The question, as the Tigers headed into bowl preparation, was whether Mason would be good enough to step into Dyer’s role as the feature back and carry the ball 20 times or more?

Or would the Tigers need to give the ball more to the slender McCalebb, who at 174 pounds is probably better suited to the 8.5 carries a game workload he currently handles.

“The good thing about it is he’s played enough this year to give himself a chance to contribute,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said when the Tigers started bowl practice. “He’s done some things carrying the football on special teams and offensively that makes us think he’ll have a chance to help and contribute. He’s going to have to work really hard. If he’s going to carry a bigger role in this game, he’s got a lot of work in front of him.”

Apparently, Mason has put in the necessary work and the plan is to give him the football and see what he can do with it.

“He’d better be ready come December 31,” Auburn running backs coach Curtis Luper said recently when asked if Mason was ready to be the featured tailback. “He’s gained 10 pounds since he got here. He’s close to 200 pounds. He’s comfortable in the offense, comfortable with the tempo and the pace and the different things we do. He just needs to play. We’ll ease him into game plan, like, real fast next Saturday.”

McCalebb says Mason is ready.

“I think he’s ready for everything,” McCalebb said. “He’s been here the whole season. He’s had a lot of time to prepare and everybody has confidence in him to step up on the field.”

Physically, Mason is somewhere between Dyer and McCalebb. He’s physical enough for inside running, and his speed is comparable to that of McCalebb.

That equates to a bright future with the Tigers.

“He can do both,” Luper said. “He’ll be 200 pounds next year so he’ll be able to run between the tackles and take the pounding. He’s a 4.4, so he can help Onterio with the fly sweep stuff. He’s pretty versatile. What we like is versatility at that position so we can play him at different spots.”

Luper also likes the fact that both McCalebb and Mason are breakaway threats.

“They have to account for those guys and account for the fact that they can get on the corner and around the corner in a heartbeat,” Luper said. “It’s exciting. I suspect somebody will take it the distance next week. I hope so anyway.”

Meanwhile, Mason seems anything but nervous about stepping into the spotlight.

“I know it’s a big moment, but football will always be football,” Mason said. “Coach Chiz always tells us this is a 200-year old game. And this is what he recruited us for, so I’m just going to go in there and show everybody what I can do.”

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