COLLEGE PARK -- In Maryland's new offense, he is the superback. The coaches tell him: "BYOB." Bring Your Own Blocker, fella.
No longer is Mark Mason a running back. Now he is the superback in the run-and-shoot offense that new coach Mark Duffner brought from Holy Cross. Duffner wants a lot from Mason.
"We need a lot -- rushing, receiving, making big plays, blocking," Duffner said yesterday during Maryland's press and photo day. "But most of all, we need him to stay healthy."
Mason's sophomore season last year ended abruptly in the fifth game when he broke his right leg in a collision with a tackler after a reception on the artificial turf at Georgia Tech. At the time, he led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 595 all-purpose yards, including 452 rushing.
"I didn't feel anything," Mason said, "but then I looked down and saw that roller coaster of a knot on my leg."
Was he unlucky? Mason began to think he was. In his senior year at Churchill High in Montgomery County, Mason suffered a cracked bone in his foot when a cleat broke through the sole of his shoe. He missed seven weeks.
"My parents thought we had a case against Nike, but we didn't have the money to start a suit," Mason said.
Fully recovered when he arrived at Maryland in 1990, Mason made only cameo appearances until the final game, against Virginia. He ran wild, rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns in an upset victory that gave Maryland a 6-5 record and then-coach Joe Krivak a contract extension.
That performance was followed by five strong games last year before he broke his leg. Now, Mason feels he is back. Indeed, at the start of spring practice, new running backs coach John Baxter didn't realize Mason had been hurt the previous fall.
"It was news to me," Baxter said. "Long after I had seen him working out, someone in a staff meeting asked how Mason was after the broken leg. I said, 'He broke a leg?' I never saw any indication of that."
Mason's 40-yard -- time of 4.37 seconds in the spring topped his previous best of 4.4. His vertical jump is only an inch shy of his team-record 39 inches set as a freshman. He has gained 20 pounds "of muscle mass in my thighs, chest and arms," to reach 194.
"I'm back," Mason said. "I'm stronger and obviously I haven't lost any speed."
Mason talks about gaining 1,000 yards this season. Duffner does not discourage such talk. The coach notes that Barry Sanders has had a series of 1,000-yard rushing years in the Detroit Lions' run-and-shoot offense. Why not Mason?
"He's a quality player who's in perfect shape," Duffner said. "He's clearly our No. 1 superback."
But Baxter wants to talk about junior Kameron Williams and sophomore Doug Burnett, too. Williams, a transfer from the University of Cincinnati, and Burnett are, like Mason, short (all are 5 feet 8), stocky and fast.
"Kam is powerful and gets the violent yards, after contact and breaking tackles," Baxter said. "Burnett is strong, a blocking back and inside runner who pulls tacklers with him. Mason is the big-play back.
"Superbacks do everything. They do windows; nothing's beneath them. There's no lead blocker in the offense, so the superback has to get by unblocked and partially blocked players. The average back goes down. Superback goes on."
BYOB, Mr. Mason.
With the opener at Virginia less than three weeks away, Mason is chafing at the bit. He feels reborn, not just because he is back from the injury but because the coaching staff is new.
"I've never been so excited," he said. "Everything's so different. Last year players cut corners on weight training. Now everyone goes all-out. Every day someone breaks his personal record for lifting weights."
Mason is working himself into a nice lather for Virginia: "I hate Virginia. I hate ACC teams, one no more than another. I hate 'em all."