Striving for the Mental Edge

After he tore his ACL in last spring, receiver and Madison native Marquis Mason let the injury cloud his mind. A year later, the redshirt sophomore is physically ready to compete, and he's building up his mental edge to be a truly standout playmaker.

MADISON - Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema compares redshirt sophomore receiver Marquis Mason to a box of chocolates, always wondering what he is going to get when the former Madison East athlete steps on the field and competes.

And while his first two seasons have been a lot like a variety pack, Mason has started to show in this year's spring camp that consistency is his flavor of choice.

He's not there yet, but Mason has been one of the bright camp spots in a receiving unit that is devoid of upperclassmen and short on playmakers. Physically showing his gifts, using his long frame to grab throws and his surgically repaired knee to plant and run good routes, Mason told Badger Nation that the biggest challenge now is the mental side of being a football player.

Your knee looks 100 percent better and stronger. Tell me what went through your mind when you got the doctor's clearance. Was it relief or did you feel you were starting again at the beginning?

Mason: What's weird that I rehabbed quicker than they though. I was running, cutting and jumping in November, but I obviously wasn't going to play that late in the season. It was all about getting strength back, and I slowly got confidence back. My confidence in my knee isn't 100 percent, but it's too the point where I can come out here and play.

Coach Bielema has said multiple times that it's all mental for you now. I take it you agree with him on that?

Mason: It's all mental in the game of football. It's hard to go through an injury like that and not think about it. To this day, I can tell you exactly what route and exactly how I did it, and it's something I can't think about. There is times I don't think about it and I perform really well. There is times I do think about it and I am slacking. My main focus is to get tougher mentally because once it's gone from my head, I'll be way better than I am right now.

Do you want to talk about it or should we leave it in the past?

Mason: I can talk about it all day. It really doesn't affect me too much other than when I am playing. At the end of the day, I am out here playing. It happened the week before the spring game. It was the last two periods of practice, and I shouldn't have put it on Facebook. It was one of those things where it just shocks you. Your whole athletic career, what you have done up to that point and what you thought your future was going to be flashes by you. The doctors and staff have been really supportive, and I could not have asked for anything better.

It sounds like the injury has helped you mature quicker than normal?

Mason: Yeah. It's kind of a blessed curse. The curse that wasn't out on the field with my teammates working and grinding, but I was around football. I've grown in so many ways that I wouldn't have done if I wouldn't have gotten hurt.

How have you improved your body physically? You lose weight when you go through an injury, so what's your weight up to now and how was winter conditioning with your knee at 100 percent?

Mason: It was actually the reserve for me, because I gained a lot of bad weight after the injury. I was 240 pounds at the beginning of September. I just attacked everything I did and I slimmed down to 220 pounds. I got down to a weight that would help me be fast, and I couldn't have asked for anything better. Coach Herbert is just a fantastic weight coach. He saw it and he helped me.

What's it like working with your new wide receiver coach – Zach Azzanni – because he is high energy on the field, a lot different than the way DelVaughn Alexander was. Can you talk about what he is bringing to your group that is a breath of fresh air and new?

Mason: Last year and this year is two completely different coaches. Our coach last year was really laid back and was kind of, ‘If you don't get it, you don't get it.' Coach Azzanni has worked with plenty of people like myself and brings that high energy. I don't think we have quite adjusted to his high energy yet, but we're getting there.

Coach Azzanni is extremely detail oriented, more so than anybody I have met in my life, and that's huge for me. I had two years of experience before coming here and he's helped get out of my breaks as much as possible. Just having someone around like him helps me out so much.

What was it like meeting him for the first time and talking to him knowing that a new coach usually gives his players a fresh slate?

Mason: He told me that he knows my story, but that's not an excuse. That's not an excuse to slack, and I got from him that he's going to be responsible for me, he's going to help me and he's going to push me because he knows I can play. He knows all it takes is confidence. He says he's going to be that scratch on my back. He's going to break down, make me bleed and scar it. And then he's going to keep scratching it, because he knows that's going to make me better. I couldn't ask for anything more. He's hard on me all the time, and I know it's going to make me better.

Through nine practices, where do you think you are in relationship to where you thought you were going to be?

Mason: I am actually a lot further than I thought I would be. I didn't know how the new offense would be and after going through some practices, I get the offense. There are little things I don't get that I can work on with the coaches, but overall I get the offense. Now it's just about executing and doing what I have to do in order to get on the field.

What was it like working with a quarterbacks you had last season, especially a guy like Russell Wilson?

Mason: Me and Russell didn't have a tight relationship but when I did talk to him, he was very, very helpful. He wasn't one of those guys who said, ‘Run this and if you don't get it, you don't get it.' He sat down and explained things to me. Joe Brennan is in a bunch of my classes and even when I have a question I'll ask him. Joel Stave is the nicest guy I have ever met. All of them together have helped me so much. Me and Joey sat here 10:30 p.m. some nights going over the offense to make sure that we got it. It's been a tremendous help.

When two weeks to go, where do you want to be when the spring game is over going towards the summer?

Mason: I don't have a long term goal. I am not going to stand here and say that I want to be the starter in the fall. My main focus right now is getting a roster spot and having an opportunity to play. We have six or seven receivers throughout the year. If I am number five, six or seven, it doesn't matter because I am on the roster and I can help the team. It means the coaches trust me and in the fall, it's all about showing up. Whoever shows up is going to play. Fall camp will take care of itself if I compete my hardest.

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