Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Mason gets his shot at the NFL

Former Gazette Player of the Year in Redskins camp

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Potomac native Marcus Mason finds himself in a strange position this summer.

After being the main offensive option at Georgetown Prep and later at Youngstown State (Ohio) University, the quick, tough tailback is just a secondary option for the Washington Redskins this summer during training camp.

What hasn’t changed, however, is Mason’s ability to create havoc with a football in his hands, leading him to believe a spot on Washington’s final roster for the regular season is within his grasp, despite joining the team as an undrafted free agent in April and despite competing against a deep stable of running backs that includes veterans Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright.

‘‘Things are going well,” said Mason. ‘‘I’m getting to play and the players are helping me out. It’s going smoothly. I think I’ve got a good shot of making the squad.”

Mason, who set the Maryland high-school state record for career rushing yards (5,790), touchdowns (86) and points (520) while at Georgetown Prep from 1999-2002, began his Redskins tenure by gaining 34 yards on 12 carries during the team’s opening scrimmage with the Baltimore Ravens, a franchise renowned for its defensive prowess.

The 5-foot-9, 218-pound running back followed with the game-winning touchdown in Washington’s come-from-behind 14-6 win over the Tennessee Titans Aug. 11 in the preseason opener. Mason helped set up the score with a 13-yard run and then dove into the end zone from a yard out with 1 minute, 17 seconds left in the game.

‘‘It was just great blocking by the offensive line. They paved the way,” Mason said. ‘‘I fell over the top and into the end zone. They did a good job. I was real nervous [before the game] but after watching I got to see how the game was, so as I soon as I got in there it wasn’t that bad.”

Mason played well in the second half of Saturday’s 12-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers too, making some tough yards out of plays that looked destined for losses.

‘‘It was a great experience to finally play on FedEx Field after growing up watching the Redskins at RFK and then FedEx,” Mason said.

Besides carrying the ball and hauling in an occasional pass, Mason has seen time on the kickoff and punt return teams as well as on the punt block and kickoff squads, something that the 2002 Gazette Player of the Year believes will ‘‘help get me on the team.”

Mason earned this summer’s look after a successful local tryout for the Redskins and following a tremendous senior season at Youngstown State, where he rushed for a school-record 1,847 yards and 23 touchdowns, while averaging a school-record 153.9 yards per game.

His performance helped the Penguins (11-3) reach the NCAA Division I-AA semifinals for the first time since 1999 before falling, 49-24, to Appalachian State, which went on to win its second straight national title. Mason finished his career with a 121-yard, one-touchdown effort in the loss.

‘‘It was a great year,” Mason said. ‘‘We just had a great team out there and great team chemistry. We had a rough last game against Appalachian State, but I really had fun out there.”

Mason, who began his career at Illinois before transferring to Youngstown State prior to the 2005 season, finished his two-year career with the Penguins with 2,739 yards and 31 touchdowns, including a school-record 95-yard scoring run at Western Illinois in 2006.

He was a Division I-AA first-team All-America selection by the Associated Press, the Sports Network, the Walter Camp Foundation and the American Football Coaches Association. Mason was also named the 2006 Gateway Offensive Player of the Year and he set a school record with 10 100-yard rushing games last fall.

‘‘Marcus, he really committed himself,” Georgetown Prep coach Dan Paro said. ‘‘The one thing that’s pretty cool about him is he always sets goals. He sent me a letter before his season started [a year ago]. He laid them out and the only goal he didn’t get was winning a national championship. And now he’s set goals [this summer]. He’s worked hard. It’s been a dream all of his life.”