COLLEGE PARK -- Mark Mason timid?
It's hard to imagine the cockiest Terp of all describing himself that way, but that was Mason's self-assessment in Maryland's first four football games. Coming back from his second season-ending injury in as many years, Mason, all 5 feet 8 and 190 pounds of him, admits that recently he hasn't always been the fearless, instinctive runner of old.
"Not being used to the contact, I was very much timid at the start of the season," Mason said. "The first couple of games, I tried to do too much. Instead of just going out there and playing, I was trying to make everything perfect, every cut, every block, every step in the backfield.
"I was thinking too much, instead of reacting. I'm not happy with the way I played in the first few games, but I feel it's getting better."
The standard Mason is trying to maintain is one that had him leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in all-purpose yardage the past two seasons. Each year, however, was ended by an injury in the Terps' fifth game.
Saturday night against Penn State just happens to be Maryland's fifth game. He said he isn't superstitious, but the inquiries about deja vu are just one more piece of emotional baggage for Mason, a 21-year-old senior who has had to cope with the death of a friend, few wins and prolonged inactivity that hasn't been satisfied in catch-up situations.
Mason is capable of becoming the seventh Maryland back to rush for 2,000 yards, but his start held the prospect for much more.
He bettered Paul Palmer's rushing records at Winston Churchill High in Montgomery County, and Mason was confident he could help the Terps when he arrived here in 1990. Mason played the good soldier behind starting tailback Troy Jackson, but his patience was rewarded.
After sitting most of his freshman season, Mason ran for 209 yards in Maryland's last two games of 1990, a defeat of Virginia and a tie with Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. He was listed No. 2 behind Jackson going into 1991, but had a team-high 452 yards before breaking a leg against Georgia Tech.
The pattern was repeated last year. Mason ran for 516 yards in the Terps' first four games, but went down early against Pitt with a fractured scapula in his left shoulder. Throw in an injury in his senior year of high school caused by a cleat that broke through one of his shoes, and Mason knows his way to the trainer.
"I've sustained some freak injuries," Mason said. "I learned so much anatomy, I wondered if someone was trying to tell me I should be a doctor."
There's a certain irony in Mason's misfortune, because he takes his conditioning seriously and has been a regular in the weight room since junior high. His penchant for action and winning has been tested severely, since he hasn't been standing at the end of a Maryland victory since the 1991 opener with Virginia.
The Terps won only once after Mason went down that year, and he was hurt early in the first of 1992's three victories.
"After I got hurt my sophomore year, I didn't go to games, didn't go to practice, I didn't want to see a football," Mason said. "I was around more last year, but all I got out of it was a good view of the game."
Mason was one of the four Maryland players who were overpaid for summer work due to a clerical error, but said the media attention of that minor violation of NCAA rules didn't affect his preseason preparation.
He was shaken, however, in late August by the death of Archie Clark in an auto accident. Clark was The Sun's Defensive Player of the Year for Oakland Mills High in 1989, and the two were Big 33 teammates that summer. They roomed together as freshmen, and although Clark never played for Maryland, the two remained friends.
"Before every game, I pray for Archie and his family," Mason said. "This season's dedicated to him."
Mason is averaging close to 80 yards rushing per game, but it isn't enough for his taste. Though a sprained ankle last week slowed his comeback, he still had a season-high 103 yards at Virginia Tech. Fifty came on the first play of the game.
"I still don't think he's 100 percent physically," quarterback Scott Milanovich said. "If he's healthy, Mark scores on the first play. He told me that afterward. It's been hard for him to get in the flow, because we're falling behind and having to throw."
The Terps have trailed by eight, 17, 11 and 21 points at the half, and with Milanovich leading the nation's most-productive passing attack, fewer than one-third of Mason's carries have come in the second half.
"I've had to block more," Mason said. "I feel like an extra offensive lineman. . . if that's what it takes to win, so be it, but I wish I could get the ball more."
Year ... G ... Att ..... Yds ... TD
1990 ... 11 ... 35 ..... 278 .... 2
1991 .... 5 ... 82 ..... 452 .... 3
1992 .... 5 ... 96 ..... 523 .... 1
1993 .... 4 ... 73 ..... 318 .... 1
Totals.. 25 .. 286 ... 1,571 .... 7