Steve George didn’t hesitate when asked where he used Ben Mason with the Newtown High football team.
“Everywhere,” George said. “Even long snapper.”
Yes, even long snapper. As college offers grew, Mason played linebacker and defensive end as a pass rusher. On offense, he played running back. He played tight end. He played H-back. Unless George had to give him a break, Mason played every special teams snap too.
“One practice we were trying to make a point how hard Ben worked,” George said. “I pulled out my offensive tackle and put him there for a couple of plays. Not that we were going to use him there, but he dominated that, too.”
Multiple all-conference and all-state honors; Gatorade, Walter Camp and New Haven Register state Player of the Year — Ben Mason did not lack attention in high school. He had some very big numbers. A strong student, he picked Michigan, with Don Brown heavily recruiting him, over a diverse final group of Wisconsin, Cal, Navy and Harvard.
Yet it is the versatility, toughness and work ethic Mason demonstrated in high school and, later, for four years in the Big House that has experts projecting him as a lock to be picked as a fullback in the third day of the 2021 NFL draft. The Jets are interested. The Patriots, too.
Maybe Mason is the next Anthony Sherman, who recently retired from the Kansas City Chiefs. He’d like that (more later).
Maybe he is the next Kyle Juszczyk, a favorite comparison of the draftniks who point to the Jets using a 49ers-style offense where Juszczyk, a Harvard guy, has found success.
At any rate, selling Mason as tough is underselling him. His own Michigan teammates twice voted him winner of the Toughest Player Award. The dude pancakes people. He cherishes contact. He is the guy coaches, teammates and fans love. A throwback to the days of leather helmets. A bulldozer.
Day 3 of the draft on Saturday brings unpredictable rounds four through seven. If not picked, there is the free-agent route. There’ll be a lot going on as Mason sits with his family in Newtown. So what’s he most nervous about?
“I’m not nervous about anything,” Mason said. “I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. I’m very confident in the work I’ve put in. I’m very confident in everything I’ve done to this point. There’s nothing really to be nervous about. I know wherever and whenever I get the opportunity, I’m going to make the most of it. Any team is going to be very thankful. I’m going to make a big difference day-in and day-out to their organization.”
In the modern-day NFL, fullback is a specialty position. This naturally leads folks to wonder where such a player will be picked. Rather than fullback, perhaps it is best to call Mason a 6-foot-3, 255-pound Swiss Army knife. The Hellacious Hybrid.
“(Drafting fullbacks) is not a very common very thing. What I would say I am a very versatile fullback,” Mason said. “I have the ability to do a lot. I can play tight end. I can play in the hip. I can play in the backfield. I’m a very big special teams player. I bring a lot of value to a team.
“But fullback is starting to make a comeback in the league. There are a lot of teams that use them in different capacities. Most teams carry a fullback on the roster. There’s definitely a tight-knit group of fullbacks in the league.”
Mason was invited to the Senior Bowl, had a strong week, had a strong game, catching eyes on some crushing lead blocking. His stock rose. He only wished he had been able to show his wares more in the passing game. Getting to talk to NFL scouts, coaches, GMs was extremely valuable in a year when face-to-face contact was limited. The combine was virtual. Mason’s pro day in Ann Arbor went well. He benched 225 pounds 29 times, ran the 40 in 4.72, had a 37.5-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-9 broad jump.
Nicknamed “Bench” in his high school for eye-popping lifting, Mason did most of his training in California before his pro day. Since then, he has worked with Kevin Cleary at the Athlete Factory in Newtown. He said he has spoken with every team.
“I’d just be guessing where I’d go,” Mason said. “You’re going to have to just wait and see what happens.”
Showing up on Michigan’s campus as a projected linebacker, Mason converted to fullback and scored two touchdowns as a freshman. Jim Harbaugh loved him from the start, said he was the kid every father would want. Mason carried 33 times for 80 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. He moved over to help on defense as a junior. With offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ moving away from the use of a fullback and toward spread formations, Mason’s carries dwindled in his last two years. As an H-back/tight end he did catch two passes with one touchdown during the shortened 2020 Big Ten schedule.
“I’m extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to go to Michigan,” said Mason, a multiple Academic All-Big Ten honoree. “I wouldn’t change anything about my experience there. First of all, it was a great experience as a student. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of different people from a lot of different places. The diverse background made me more a diverse person.
“On the field, I really wouldn’t change anything that happened. I had a really good freshman and sophomore year at fullback. My junior year I was asked to move to defensive tackle because we had really low depth there. That’s what the team needed. That’s what I did. Looking back on it, I was fortunate for that experience. I think it made me a better fullback. I could really feel the difference going back to the opposite side of the ball after taking on 650-pound double teams.”
He was bred to be tough. Honored by the M Club at Michigan after his freshman year, Mason told the gathering about a game when he was in the third grade.
“It was really cold,” Mason said to the group. “I think it was snowing, actually. I go out there. I had long sleeves on. My dad decides to walk up to me with scissors. He cuts the sleeves off. I’m the only guy on the field not wearing sleeves. Everyone was like, ‘What’s going on?’”
Old school, that’s what. Old school like the Sherminator. Anthony Sherman went to North Attleboro High in Massachusetts before UConn and on to a long NFL career. He was the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year in 2006.
“I grew up in Massachusetts,” Mason said. “We heard about him when I was a little kid. When I was third or fourth grade, I used to go to his high school games. He was a really good player. We followed him at UConn and now he just finished a fabulous 10-year career with the Chiefs.”
The two have never met. Mason has texted with him.
“When I look at him, I look at the great effect he had on special teams on a game-to-game basis,” Mason said. “He’s a core teamer. Later on in his career, he wasn’t necessarily used every down on offense, but he made his living on special teams. You’ve got to admire that.”
George, now an assistant coach at Seymour, remembered a varsity scrimmage against a pretty good team when Mason was a ninth grader. The freshman scrimmage was going on at the same time. George and the coaches were peeking over.
“Ben was playing so well we called him over to the varsity scrimmage,” George said. “We never looked back. It was obvious he was at that level at 14-15, and to consistently grow with his God-given talent is a credit to him and his parents. This week is so exciting for Newtown and the Mason family. And as his coach, to be able to see Ben have this much success, it’s a one-time experience.”
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