Mason could be cornerstone on which Maryland builds Freshman halfback can turn on speed


COLLEGE PARK -- Freshman halfback Mark Mason has had so much impact that University of Maryland football coach Joe Krivak is considering changing his offense again.

Instead of the one-back set, Krivak may go back to the I formation or pro set.

There's even a remote possibility that the change might happen before the Terps (6-5) play Louisiana Tech (8-3) in the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., Dec. 15.

"There's a possibility we could go back to the two-back set; we'll definitely think about it during spring ball," said Krivak, smiling. "It's obvious we've got to get Mark more playing time. With players like Markand some others emerging, we're developing some depth. As for the game with Louisiana Tech, well, I don't know. And if we do, you know I'm not going to talk about it."

But while Krivak plays a cat-and-mouse game with his plans for Louisiana Tech, he appears to be a believer in Mason, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound player from Potomac.

And so is Virginia coach George Welsh.

Against the Cavaliers, Mason rushed for 116 yards on 18 carries, including touchdown runs of 59 and 8 yards.

Mason's acceleration was particularly impressive to Krivak and Welsh. On the 59-yard run, Mason drifted outside on a sweep left. He spotted a hole, accelerated and it was goodbye.

"Freshman or no freshman, that little runner had natural ability," Welsh said.

It's the kind of ability Krivak hasn't seen at Maryland since Alvin Blount and Tommy Neal in the early and mid-1980s.

"He may well be the back we give the ball to 20 to 25 times a game," said Krivak. "He's the type of back you like to say you coached, but he has the type of skills you don't coach -- the acceleration, the change of direction. He's a youngster we feel real good about, and he could be our back of the future."

Mason said he can't see himself starting until possibly his junior year, even though he is listed as No. 2 behind junior Troy Jackson.

Jackson doesn't possess Mason's speed or quickness, but he has more experience.

"I think Troy is a great back," said Mason, who squats 465 pounds and once ran a 40-yard -- in 4.2 seconds. "He deserves to start. I'm still learning from him."

Mason attributes his slow start to learning the system at Maryland, but Krivak disagrees. The coach said that he was impressed with Mason during summer camp -- so much that he did not allow him to redshirt.

Mason had a total of seven carries for 16 yards in the Terps' first three games, and, after Game 3, he was moved back to No. 4 running back.

"When I got moved back to the scout team [after the Clemson game], I gained my confidence," said Mason. "Up until that point, I was scared to make cuts or afraid I'd mess up in the blocking scheme. Then, I started going against the first team and people like Larry Webster [defensive tackle] and Glenn Page. When they hit you, it made you open your eyes. I started seeing the holes and making the cuts a lot better."

Krivak said his staff was trying to break Mason in slowly.

"You've got to see how a youngster is going to handle all of this -- the hits, a new system, the academics," said Krivak. "Some kids aren't mature enough to do so. Mark seemed to handle it very well."

At Mason's request, Krivak inserted him as a kick returner in the sixth game, against Georgia Tech, and Mason returned four kickoffs for 103 yards and had eight carries for 22. A week later, he gained 52 yards on seven carries against Wake Forest.

But in the next three weeks -- against Duke, North Carolina and Penn State -- Mason did not rush the ball.

"That's when I really became frustrated," he said. "I thought my year was being wasted, and I could have used a redshirt season more effectively."

Mason changed his mind after the Virginia game. Jackson went down with turf toe and did not play the second half. Mason scored two touchdowns in the last two quarters, as Maryland scored 28 second-half points to upset Virginia -- then ranked No. 8 -- 35-30.

"I was very excited for the team, myself and the coaching staff," said Mason. "That 59-yard touchdown was my first collegiate touchdown, and it will always be something special.

"But now I have to go out and prove myself again, prove to people that it wasn't a fluke. Now, I no longer feel that my season was wasted. I feel good about what I have done and learned."

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