Jonathan Patton, who was driving, never saw the 18-wheeler that caused him to swerve and flip his Ford Explorer on Interstate 65 near downtown Nashville. It led to a lengthy period of mourning at the high school.
"For some reason we got thrown out of the car, but Jonathan stayed in," said Mason, who spent the following two weeks in the hospital. "I went unconscious. I only know what happened because Brian [Gupton] told me."
The experience changed Mason's outlook on life. He wouldn't return to the football field for his junior campaign until there were just three games remaining. So while he spent most of the fall in physical therapy and focusing on his school work, he also got involved in a program called "In Full Motion."
"It helped keep me on track," Mason said.
The non-profit organization, started by former Firebirds football coach Maurice Fitzgerald, helps underprivileged athletes in all sports with resources to prepare for and take the SAT and ACT tests.
"Not only do we tutor them, we also provide some funding for 100 or so people like Rashad who need a little extra help," said Fitzgerald, who spent 16 years as Pearl-Cohn's head coach, winning back-to-back state titles in 1996 and 1997. "It's just some little things we try to do to help the kids get into college."
Mason responded with a qualifying SAT score.
"Rashad and Brian are special kids, but the main thing is to see them mature. And anytime you can get a scholarship, that's a blessing. We're happy to get them into a program with an established coach who has been successful.
"The sky is the limit."
Realizing what a gift he had both in his athletic ability and through the second chance he received in surviving the accident, Mason caught fire his senior season. He hauled in 26 passes for 610 yards and 13 touchdowns. A threat to score nearly every time he touched the ball, Mason would become one of the most sought after prospects in the state.
Enamored by the UNC campus visit, Mason was also impressed with the faculty at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, where he hopes to pursue his major.
"North Carolina is going to have a lot of talent at wide receiver," Pearl-Cohn coach Tony Brunetti said. "Coach [Butch] Davis does a good job of promoting his kids to the next level, as well has turning them into men. He's taken some talent you've probably never heard about before college and turned them into players. But he also surrounds himself with good personalities as coaches that can relate to these kids."