Derrick Mason leads the way at youth football

It only took a few moments for Derrick Mason to demonstrate that he doesn't just have his name attached to his annual summer football camp.

The Baltimore Ravens' veteran wide receiver led a large group of youngsters onto the practice field Wednesday afternoon at McDaniel College and immediately began barking out instructions and encouragement.

"Keep those knees up high," Mason said. "Keep your feet moving. That's it, run all the way through the line." Among the two-time Pro Bowl selection's star pupils at camp this summer: Derrick Mason II, his eight-year-old son.

"I'm giving him a refresher course," Mason said while keeping a watchful eye on his son, who proved that athleticism runs in the family. "He will start playing Little League football this fall. Hopefully, this will give him a crash course. Hopefully, he enjoys it and I know he will." Like his father, Mason is a wide receiver.

"He wants to stay outside," Mason said. "I don't blame him." And like Art Monk and Mark Clayton did during their camps in previous years at the private, liberal arts school, Mason is imparting his knowledge of football to hundreds of youngsters. Mason, 37, has significant professional experience.

The Detroit native has caught 924 career passes to rank 12th in NFL history and is the lone player in league history to generate 5,000 return yards and 11,000 receiving yards. He has amassed 66 touchdown catches and 11,891 yards. Mason has caught at least 60 passes for 11 consecutive seasons.

"It's great to learn about football from the experts," Evan Hayek said. "I'm looking forward to everything. It should be fun." Hayek, 9, is a budding offensive lineman from New Market. "He's a hog," said Brian Hayek, Evan's father. "This should be a really good experience for him." Heading into his 15th NFL season, Mason caught 61 passes for 802 yards and seven touchdowns last season. And he has some lessons he wants to emphasize this week.

"Just to have fun and learn the fundamentals of football and sportsmanship," Mason said. "That's why I play the game. I have fun and enjoy it. I always say, once I stop having fun and enjoying it, I'm going to quit. I want to make sure these young kids understand that it's all about fundamentals, respecting your coach and also having fun. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to be coachable, respectable and listen.

"When you're coachable, you're not just coachable on the field. You're able to take instruction in the classroom. So, that kind of goes hand in hand. You want to teach them a lot at this age. They're like sponges. Anything you tell them, they're going to soak it in. You want to make sure you're giving them the right message." Mason's primary emphasis for the kids isn't necessarily on becoming a great football player. It's on appreciating the game, their teammates, coaches and parents.

"They're out here for a reason, and it's because they love the game," Mason said. "They're not out here for any other reason. They're not getting paid. No one is looking at them to go to college right now. They're out here because they love the sport.

"As you get a little older, you sometimes lose sight of that. I haven't lost sight of that. I still enjoy the game. I still play it with the passion of a little kid. As long as that continues to be there, I'll continue to play."

NOTE: Mason and Ravens running back Ray Rice are matching donations of school supplies and backpacks for Baltimore area students, assisting over 1,000 students. The packages are valued at roughly $50 apiece.

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