Mason smiling again

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The smile has returned to Mike Mason's face. When he was watching from the sidelines during the spring with a broken jaw, it was nearly impossible for the electrifying freshman to feel at ease.

Mason, who stormed onto the scene one year removed from high school and contributed right away for the Tar Heels, was relegated to having his gums wired shut, a virtual liquid diet and, perhaps most trying of all, physical inactivity.

It was D.J. Walker who delivered the bone-breaking hit during a spring practice scrimmage.

"When I got hit, it was split down the middle -- right here," Mason said pointing to the underside of his chin. "Actually it wasn't hard, it was just the way his helmet hit me. We watched it on film and we just couldn't see how it happened like that."

Mason had the fracture surgically repaired and couldn't eat anything thicker than a milkshake for about 6-8 weeks. He lost weight without trying and he still has some lingering soreness. But he is back at practice and has been going through passing drills with quarterback Darian Durant, UNC coach John Bunting reported.

"He is a young man that really loves playing," said Bunting. "He studies the game. He can't watch enough tape. He's always trying to get better."

Mason said the hit he sustained will not cause him to modify his approach to the game -- especially when it comes to cutting across the middle.

"I don't think it's changed me; it seems like I've gotten better from it," Mason said. "It seems like I can do things now that I couldn't do then. I don't think this is going to affect me."

The Rocky Mount native committed early and exceeded expectations that were already sky high. In his first season, Mason was third on the team in total receiving yards (313) and second with three touchdown catches. He also led the Tar Heels in kick return yards, including a 96-yard runback for a touchdown at Maryland.

Mason said making his mind up early helped him get a jumpstart on his collegiate career.

"It did help, because when I committed it was like I already had a relationship with the coaches and all the guys," he said. "I just wasn't here. It seemed like I was just a distant player."

Mason wore his Carolina Blue colors on his sleeve, figuratively, while talking with other top area recruits prior to Signing Day. He was a UNC football ambassador to up and coming prospects then, and remains in that capacity today.

His former teammate, Gryphons senior quarterback Terrell Hudgins, is a 2005 prospect. Mason said he would like to hook up with Hudgins again, this time in Kenan Stadium. Although Hudgins remains undecided at this point, Mason believes the Tar Heels recruiting prowess is strong.

"For us not to be winning – just two games last year – we're still bringing in top notch recruits," Mason said. "Coach Bunting is doing a great job.

"If we were winning more, I think everybody would be coming here. We've got everything here, but State, they're just winning right now. They're winning bowl games, so that's probably why a lot of the recruits want to go there.

"This year is going to be real important. And if we keep getting better, it's just going to help next year. Eventually we're going to have a great team."

Senior writer Andy Britt is in his third year with Inside Carolina. (Email Andy)

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