Mason is unexpected man in middle of Air Raid

ALMOST UNEQUIVOCALLY, running back Marcus Mason is the biggest surprise to this young Washington State football season. Aside from center Elliott Bosch and quarterback Connor Halliday, nobody on the Cougar offense has touched the ball more than Mason, a 5-9, 188-pound junior running back from southern California.

He has rushed the ball 17 times for 72 yards and caught four passes for 38. That's 21 total touches for 110 all-purpose yards. In other words, he's good for 5.24 yards everytime the announcers call his name.

For perspective on how far out of left field that production has come, consider he now has just four fewer touches –- and seven more yards -– than he did all of last season.

To think that Mason, a heretofore lightly used back on a pass-happy team -- one with offensive weapons that include the likes of Gabe Marks, Brett Bartolone, Dominique Williams, Isiah Myers and Bobby Ratliff -- would be tops in touches and a few yards behind leader Marks in all-purpose hashes is nothing less than head turning.

WSU vs Southern Utah

The kickoff: 3:30 p.m. today in Martin Stadium.

The line: Washington State by 21

TV: Pac-12 Network

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Heck, with fellow running back Teondray Caldwell, a proven all-purpose producer, returning for his sophomore campaign, Mason was seemingly a man in the shadows.

No more. He and Caldwell even line up in tandem several times a game.

"It means I've been doing the right things and not hesitating," Mason said this week about the coaching staff's confidence in him.

"It's always just so exciting to play, you're rarely going to see me without a smile on my face," he added, offering a glimpse into why coaches like him.

There's more. When Mason was asked if, following Leach's hiring, he had concerns about being a running back in a passing offense, he didn't skip a beat: "The only thing I really care about is winning."

AFTER HAVING HIS NAME CALLED on offense more than any other player these first two weeks, Mason still is hardly a household name among the crimson faithful. And that's apropos, because he became a Cougar in the first place in a most unassuming way.

Washington State was the only school to offer him a scholarship in 2011 out of Etiwanda High (about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles). And it arrived very late in the process -- just a couple of weeks before LOI Day -- when running back Bishop Sankey reneged on his verbal pledge to WSU.

Mason said he was at home "by myself, sitting down, probably eating a Hot Pocket or something" when WSU's then-recruiting coordinator Rich Rasmussen called with the scholarship offer. Mason committed a day or two later and took his official visit to Pullman that coming weekend.

"Other than that, no one really gave me a shot," he said this week.

Mason had turned in a spectacular senior season at Etiwanda, racking up more than 1,800 all-purpose yards, but it was his first full year on offense. He had primarily been a safety up to that point. And in this era of earlier and earlier verbals, a player's junior season typically is the difference between getting on college radars or not. Mason was decidedly not -- until Rasmussen, known for tireless digging on the recruiting trial, unearthed him.

And today, 2 ½ years later, he's the man in the middle of the Air Raid.

Keep those Hot Pockets comin'.


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