Matt Mason Continues Family's Sun Devil Tradition

It is only natural for Phoenix area players to be familiar with the ASU Football program. In many cases that familiarity breeds comfort, and eventually a desire to don the Maroon and Gold. For Matt Mason, signing with ASU meant much more than just playing for the hometown team he cheered for as a child. Becoming a Sun Devil also meant being the third generation to do so, and preserving a family legacy.

"My mother's father, and my father both played Football at ASU." Says the defensive lineman. "My grandmother on my mom's side was a member of the Sun Angel foundation. She was always talking about how much she would love for me to play at ASU. She said she'd stick around as long as she can to see me run out of the end zone. When she passed away last October, I was thinking that I would really like her to watch me, even from heaven, run out of the tunnel. My mom is sitting in my grandma's seats, so she'll be there in person…That's real big for me. If I make a big play on third down, I know that my grandma was there to give me a push from behind (smile)." Aside from being inspired by the memories of his late grandmother, the maroon and gold faithful are another strong source of motivation for the Glendale Community College standout. "I really feed off the fans. I'm a big believer in crowd participation. If the crowd goes crazy, it gives you that much more motivation to go out there and punish some people. You can count on me trying to pump up the crowd during the game (smile)."

Mason won the state's high school championship when he was a senior at Scottsdale's Chaparral. Throughout his high school career, the Sun Devils were literally the only college he considered playing for. Oddly enough, former ASU coach Bruce Snyder wasn't so high on this local Football star. "Snyder was recruiting me real good my sophomore year." Recalls the incoming ASU junior. "I was pretty much set to come there after high school. My junior year (while attending Paradise Valley High School) they stopped talking to me, and my senior they started up again. When I asked Snyder about that, he told me that my coach in my junior year (Lamby) said bad things about me, and my coach in my senior year (Kersting) said good things. I asked him why he took one coach's word over another, instead of just coming and talking to me? I never got a straight answer…I was just all confused my senior year. I was eligible to go to a four-year college (Mason was a two-time AIA Scholar-Athlete as a sophomore and junior), but I just didn't know what I wanted to do. So, I met with the Glendale coaches and they were enthusiastic about paying Football as much as I was. It turned out great because we won the NJCAA national championship."

The defensive lineman was a big part of that junior college championship. Mason recorded 11 1/2 quarterback sacks despite not being an every down lineman. He was named second-team junior college all-American by JC Gridwire, as well as a preseason all-American, and the ACCAC Co-Most Valuable Player. His achievements garnered interest from ASU and its new coaching regime, as well as South Carolina and Southern Mississippi (Washington, San Diego State, and Kansas were other colleges who recruited him). Those three schools were the focus of Mason during the recruiting season. His experiences in all three trips were quite different to say the least.

"It's a lot different down south." Says the ASU JC transfer. "Southern Miss. was like a Flagstaff with humidity (smile). I was there in January wearing a T-shirt and still sweating. Same thing at South Carolina. The humidity is a killer. I learned to appreciate Arizona much more after those two visits. Both those places were pretty small compared to Tempe. I guess I like the bigger size city. I'm happy that I'm gonna play in a place where I'm used to the weather conditions." Aside from the general culture shock, the trip to South Carolina offered some other unique and unpleasant surprises. "I didn't meet any of the defensive coaches on my first day there. In the beginning I met Lou Holtz, and all the offensive coaches and they were great guys. Coach Holtz wanted to me to commit on my visit, but I told him that I wanted to talk it over with my parents. The second day I met the defensive coordinator. Him and I were walking towards my room, and he comes out and says that he thought I would be a lot bigger than I am. I was shocked. I was just standing there thinking I can't believe that he said that to me. When you're trying to recruit somebody, that's the last thing you should say. Then he asked me to wait in my room until someone was gonna pick me up for dinner. I was sitting there in disbelief. You have no idea how much I just wanted to get on the plane right there to go back home. As it is, I was homesick the minute I got there. With everything that happened, it just wasn't the greatest experience."

In contrast, the official trip to ASU was a very positive one. Visiting the very familiar territory of the Tempe campus still had its share of remarkable moments. "My ASU trip was great. I really wasn't expecting much, just because I know so much about the school already. But man, the new facilities and the weight room just blew me away! Half of the lifts they have, I haven't seen anywhere else. The coaches were awesome on the trip, and I hope they stay that way to me (smile). We just had instant chemistry." Since the former ASU coaching staff played a large part in his decision not to sign with the school two years ago, we asked him if he would still be a Sun Devil if Snyder was at the helm. "I don't know if I would come here. But it's not like I knew right away that I was commit to ASU because Snyder wasn't here anymore. It wasn't until I met with the new coaches, that I knew ASU was the place for me. I just wanted to play for them."

Every school that recruited Mason virtually guaranteed early playing time. However, this popular proposition sounded different when it came form Coach Koetter's staff. "All the schools recruiting me said I have a chance to play on the defensive line right away. But when I sat down with the ASU coaches, they told me that you have a very good chance at coming here and starting. They also said how they were looking for someone like me that can get it done at both positions (end and tackle). Hearing that and being the hometown kid, really made an impression on me." There has been much speculation which defensive line position Mason will play at, and at this point he could only offer his own opinion. "I think I'm gonna start out playing more at defensive tackle, but I will definitely see time at defensive end (Mason is an excellent pass rusher who runs a 4.6). I can get it done inside and outside, so I don't care where they put me. I rather play defensive end, because that's where I played the most. But I know I'm big enough to play tackle. What's better for the team, that's where I'll be. For me, it's all about going to bowl and winning championships. I'm looking out for the team more than myself."

It was nearly impossible for this life long ASU fan to ignore the team's struggles in 2001. Nevertheless, the defensive lineman recognizes the potential that the maroon and gold posses, as well as the impact that the team has on other local Football stars deciding which College to commit to. "I went to a lot of the home games, and I've been a die hard ASU fan ever since I was born. That's the way I was brought up. Even though we had a tough time last year, you can see that we're ready to bust out. Our defense is flat out loaded! I know we're highly underrated, but we've got one of the best defenses in the Pac-10… I really appreciate the fact that ASU always recruits the players in its own backyard real hard. I think it's wrong if schools go more out of state than in state to recruit. I know that some of it is a business, and coaches do what's best for the school. But I also know that ASU coaches will always try to get the best players in the Phoenix area, and I respect that a lot."

With pre-season camp just a few weeks away, Mason is chomping at the bit to launch his ASU career. "I never went to camp Tontozona because I was involved in sports in the summer. But I always read the newspaper everyday to see what was going on there. My dad and his friends would go up there a lot, so I would also hear stories from them. I know it's a huge tradition. I can't wait to go up there… After my Grandmother passed, I started wondering how many more chances will my parents, my brothers, and my friends have to watch me play Football. I'm happy that they'll get to watch me play two more years right here in Tempe. I was pretty excited when I was in Chaparral to play at Sun Devil Stadium in the championship game, and now I not only get to play at that stadium again, but also be an impact player. It's just a dream come true for me." When asked about his take on this year's team he offered us this preview: "I'm very confident in my abilities and in my team. I think we're gonna shock a lot of people this year. I'm very confident in our defense, and what it can do. I think we can be top 3 in the Pac-10, and go to a bowl game. It all starts with Nebraska. Their quarterback doesn't have much experience, and we'll eat him alive on defense. If our offense can score two touchdowns, the defense will take care of the rest and win the game. I hate losing, and I don't expect to be on a losing team this year"

It may be one of the most worn out clichés in Football, but the saying "It all starts up front on defense" always ring true. Many of the struggles of ASU's 2001 defense were attributed to the inability to muster a consistent pass rush or run stop. In junior college transfer Matt Mason; the Sun Devils will have the luxury of a proven player that can perform both roles on the defensive line. It would be hardly presumptuous to declare that his play could dictate much of the success of ASU's front four this season. Matt Mason truly bleeds maroon and gold, and is the perfect ambassador to help revive the Sun Devil tradition he cherishes so much. The ASU fans in the stands and above in heaven, will undoubtley appreciate that…

Recruit Profile

Name

Matt Mason

High School

Chaparral HS, Scottsdale, AZ

Position

DT

Height

6-5

Weight

265

Date of Birth

3/9/81

Hometown

Phoenix, AZ

Nickname

Big Ma$E Dog

Favorite TV Show

Any Reality Show

Favorite Movie

Scarface

Favorite Singer

Disturbed

Favorite Food

Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken

Favorite Drink

Milk. I'm trying to get off Dr. Pepper (smile)

Favorite Athlete

Randy Johnson. I want to be intimating like him.

Favorite Pro Team

Phoenix Suns

Person you most admire

My dad. He's been my #1 provider. Anything I needed he was there to give it to me. He paid for my apartment in Glendale when I went to college there. He's just an all around great guy. I can't say enough about him.

First Football Memory

My first year at Pop Warner, I was in fifth grade. I was a Basketball player trying to play Football (smile). I was running off on the kickoff team, and I got blindsided and just pancaked! My father was the coach, and he just runs out and asks me if I'm OK. And here I am just crying and mumbling to him. He was thinking that maybe this Football thing wasn't the greatest idea. So, that's my first memory – getting "cleaned" (smile).

One Thing most people don't know about me

I'm a lot smarter than I look. A lot of people see me, and think here's a big dumb jock. If I put my mind to anything, I'm pretty successful at it.

Why did you choose ASU?

My family. It would be harder for me to play away from my family. I also developed a very strong bond with the coaches.

Where do you want to be in ten years?

Hopefully in the NFL. If that doesn't work out, I'd like to be a head coach in the NFL or the collegiate level.

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