Dec. 14, 2013
Running back Tre Mason’s story is the story of Auburn’s 2013 football team. It is a compelling and inspiring story of triumph over disappointment and despair.
In October of 2012, on the Sunday after another debilitating loss, 17-13 at Vanderbilt, the question to Mason was direct. He was clearly Auburn’s best running back, but he’d not yet had as many 20 carries in a Southeastern Conference game. His coaches had tried without success to push redshirt freshman transfer Mike Blakely ahead of him. Even after he ran for 106 yards on 14 carries in the opener against Clemson, Mason got the ball just eight times a week later at Mississippi State.
On the Sunday after Vanderbilt, with Auburn sitting at 1-6, Mason, as was his way, smiled and politely when asked if he understood why he didn’t get the ball more. But he didn’t deny the frustration.
"I still don't understand," Mason said that day. "I want to get the ball in the fourth quarter, toward the end of the game. I feel like I can do something with it, change the outcome of the game." For reasons that are likely never to be clear, his coaches didn’t agree.
Despite playing on a team that went 3-9 and wasn’t competitive in SEC games the second half of the season, Mason got over 1,000 yards on his last run in the season finale at Alabama.
Head coach Gene Chizik was fired the next day, and his staff soon followed. Gus Malzahn took over as head coach on Dec. 4. But Mason’s journey still would not be bumpy. He missed most of spring practice with an ankle injury, and when this season started he was splitting carries with Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. After three games, all Auburn victories, Mason had 39 carries for 207 yards.
Auburn went to LSU for the season’s fourth game, and so much changed. What seemed like a downer turned out to be a step forward. LSU led 21-0 in the first quarter and won 35-21. But Auburn fought back hard in the second half. And Mason ran 26 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
Nobody knew it, but Auburn’s drive for a championship and Mason’s rise to stardom were about to pick up speed.
With a bye week, Malzahn and his coaches studied their team and what it had done. They decided that the best course for the offense was to feature the legs of Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall. And the Tigers haven’t lost again.
Mason has gained at least 100 yards in seven of eight games. He ran for 178 at Texas A&M, for 168 at Arkansas and for 164 against Alabama’s mighty defense. He made a place for himself in Auburn lore when he ran 46 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns as Auburn beat Missouri 59-42 in the SEC Championship Game. Overnight, he was a national sensation.
Auburn had moved to 12-1. A running back who desperately wanted to make a difference and a team that had lost its way were champions.
It’s virtually certain that Mason won’t win the Heisman Trophy tonight. Who knows if Auburn will win the national championship?
But Mason is in New York City. And Auburn’s football team will be in Pasadena.
The transformation is complete.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: