Let's Get Flexible

Redshirt freshman tight end Z. Mason knows he'll be relied upon at some point in Ole Miss' future. But through a much-needed learning year from the sidelines, the former prep standout might get his chance sooner than expected. Read about it inside.

In the better part of his recruitment, former three-star prep standout Zaccheus Mason was a relative unknown. Playing in the low classification of Tennessee 2A can do that for an aspiring Division-I prospect.

But with good speed and soft hands for a 6-foot-5, 255-pounder, Z. made a late push in the recruiting waters. Video highlights of a large, albeit athletic, specimen made the rounds of scouting services everywhere.

And through the increase in recognition, the decorated reputation of Mason grew at a rapid pace. When Ole Miss landed the Nashville, Tenn. native's signature over competing institutions Memphis and Tennessee, some anticipated an immediate impact.

However, with a redshirt freshman season, Z. has yet to make his highly-awaited splash. In fact, as Mason puts it, taking a year off to sharpen his skills was the needed route.

"I'm glad with what happened (in getting a redshirt)," he said. "I was able to take this year to get better and I really needed it. Just coming out here and working with (tight ends) Coach (James) Shibest has helped me a lot. It's getting me prepared for next year."

Though he earned first team All-State honors as a senior at Christ Presbyterian High School, Mason was far from a finished product when he arrived in Oxford. He was once ranked the No. 13 tight end by Scout.com, but had yet to master basic fundamentals essential for the next level.

As Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt tells it, flexibility, agility and proper technique have been a continual focus for Mason.

"Z. can bend over and touch his toes now," said Nutt. "That's the first thing. He's has much more agility and flexibility now. He's made some really good catches in these scrimmages. He's been very physical in blocking. That's been one of his best assets. But he's catching the ball very good and running better."

During his prep days, Mason had grown accustomed to a spread offense and wasn't in tune with traditional tight end play. Rather, splitting out as a receiver and lining up in the backfield for his own variation of the Wild Rebel was the norm.

"It's helping me a lot," Mason said of the extra attention he's received during Cotton Bowl practices. "I'm spending more time on fundamentals. Mainly what I've focused on the most is my run-blocking. I had bad flexibility.

"I really couldn't get down in a stance, because we ran the spread in high school. It's been a good adjustment to have these practices. I'm getting to work on all the things I needed help on. I'm starting to loosen up more. My run-blocking is getting a lot better."

While his outlook is promising, Mason will admit he's not quite there in terms of his development to expect a contribution in the immediate future.

But unlike those antsy recruiting types, Mason understands there's no need to rush.

"It's mainly me getting flexible and being able to get used to the offense, learn the plays and learn to run and pass block. Some of the small things I didn't learn in high school," he said of his gradual improvement. "During the season, we've been working out four times a week. My strength has caught up with the rest of the guys.

"All those things are helping me get prepared."

And his time will come soon enough.

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