Learning the Mental Game

Make no mistakes, Marquis Mason knows the Wisconsin coaching staff brought him in on scholarship to make plays. While having the athletic ability to compete at wide receiver, the redshirt freshman is learning the hard way that there's more to playing football than just catching the ball.

MADISON - Once given the opportunity to play both football and basketball at Wisconsin, Marquis Mason can't believe he was considering doing it all.

An accomplished basketball player, Marquis Mason earned All-Conference and All-Area honors after averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds a game, numbers that earned him scholarship offers from Green Bay and Milwaukee. As good as he was on the court, Mason was just as successful on the field, catching 43 passes for 711 yards and two touchdowns.

Translating that success has been a challenge at times for Mason, as he's struggled with the playbook, some injuries and getting the chance to prove himself. Sitting down with the playbook over the winter has been beneficial to Mason, who is starting to learn what it takes to be a successful wide receiver.

With senior Nick Toon out this spring, Mason is getting a chance to show that improvement, working with the second team offense and trying to use his athleticism and that knowledge to show the coaches he's worthy of more chances on the field.

After Tuesday's practice, Mason talked to Badger Nation about his spring workouts.

Badger Nation: Has it been a fun transition for you from a two-sport athlete into a pretty good one-sport athlete?

Mason: Yeah, I've liked the transition, now that I know the offense. My main focus now is just executing. The coaches know why they gave me a scholarship and I am here to produce, so hopefully I can produce.

Badger Nation: Was it a challenging year for you to sit and learn and not be able to compete?

Mason: It was definitely a big shock. I am coming from a place where I don't sit often and even when I sit, it's not because of learning, more because of injuries or something. I guess it was good and bad because I definitely learned the game more in depth than just running and catching the ball.

Badger Nation: Is it hard to not get down on yourself at that point, especially when things don't go as smooth as hopefully you want the transition to be? It's a big jump for someone that didn't play a lot of high school football to playing in the Big Ten.

Mason: My confidence wavered most days. There were times where, ‘Why am I not playing?' Athletically I know I am good enough, but mentally I realized early on that I just wasn't there. My head coach, my offensive coaches told me that if the mentally isn't there, I am not doing anything for them but being a bench warmer. That was one thing I had to focus on, getting my mentality right.

Badger Nation: What was it like getting that message from your coaches that you have the gifts, but that you need to be focused 110 percent of the time?

Mason: It's definitely one of the things I like hearing. Obviously, they aren't going to tell me something wrong, but they aren't going to sugarcoat anything either. This isn't middle school or high school. They are going to tell me straight up and that just motivates me more to get on the field.

Badger Nation: When you do scout team work, you don't get to work on your own plays a lot. Did you get more of an opportunity during bowl prep to run the UW offense and what was that like?

Mason: Surprisingly during bowl prep, I still didn't know the plays very well, so I got limited amount of reps. I always had Nick Toon out there helping me, being in my ear, telling me what it is. Coach Alexander told me then and there that I have to know these plays and that it's more than going out there and catching the ball. Once I begin to learn the plays, the ones we run a lot especially, it began to get easier and I got more reps.

Badger Nation: Where are you with the playbook now? Do you have it mostly down where you feel comfortable when a play is called, you know what to do?

Mason: I know about 95 percent of the plays because we've been running them over and over and Coach Swan has been helping me with some one-on-one time. I definitely know the plays now, it's just about executing them. A couple times I am out there and I have to think a little bit more than others but overall, I know the plays.

Badger Nation: Coach DelVaughn Alexander is a big part of your production but what's it like having Luke Swan here, a guy that is closer to your age and went through what you guys are going through just a couple of years ago?

Mason: Honestly, it's just him being so young. He can relate more to us. Coach Alexander played college ball, but having someone there that's been through everything and knows what he's doing and can tell you what to do is something I really enjoy. He's close in age, which means I can think of him more like a friend and a player that is there to help me.

Badger Nation: It has to be a little bit of a benefit that Nick is out because you have gotten more reps. Do you feel you have taken advantage the last three weeks with the increased opportunity you have been given this spring?

Mason: I mean, every rep I can, the first week I was making a lot of mental reps and the playbook was definitely a factor. Second week, I got a little bit better and I think this week has been my best one so far. Nick has been there 100 percent and I am hoping he gets back 100 percent, but him being out has given me reps to show what I have.

Coach Alexander talked to me on Sunday and told me that he knew I was pissed for not getting that many reps in the scrimmage Saturday, but that was because I didn't know all the plays and they didn't trust me a lot. He told me that he knows I can play, I just need to know the playbook. I do know the playbook, so I just have to do what I know I can do.

Badger Nation: You've seemed to have been injured at times this spring. What has been bothering you?

Mason: I have a hip injury, but it felt better today. I am not 100 percent sure, but a tailbone problem. Maybe a fracture or a bruise, but it's kept me from running as fast as I can. Early in practice, I can run without a problem, but it aches a little bit as it goes on. That doesn't stop me from running as fast as I can, even if I am injured.

Badger Nation: Obviously the mental aspect was a big key for you coming into this season, but were you happy with where you were physically or did you spend winter conditioning trying to fine tune some areas?

Mason: Physically, I always felt strong enough, even if I didn't look the part. I mean, I am glad I put some more muscle on me, but I felt the mental part has been hampering me a lot.

Badger Nation: With the exception of Nick, the oldest receiver with experience is a redshirt sophomore. How have you young receivers leaned on each other to help learn the playbook and succeed?

Mason: One thing is that we have to have that chemistry. Out here, it is a competition but at the same time, we like each other and we want to help each other. If I mess up, Jared Abbrederis is going to tell me or Jeff Duckworth is going to say something. We know Abbrederis is going to play, but he want us to do good, too, so he's been helping us as much as possible. He's been positive throughout camp.

Badger Nation: You said you've had a good week, so do you think this is going to be a springboard for you going in to Saturday's scrimmage? How important is it for you to keep having good practices so you keep getting more reps and prove to the coaches that you are trustworthy?

Mason: My goal right now is to get over this mental stuff. This is my life I am talking about here and I don't want to waste my life sitting on the bench and not contributing because of my mental aspect. My goal is for the next two weeks and going into summer and fall camp is work as hard as possible and make plays. That's what I am here for.

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