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Team, family carry Auburn's Tre Mason as Heisman finalist

Dec. 14, 2013


Tre Mason and his mom, Tina, check out the sights at Rockefeller Center in New York (Todd Van Emst photo)

Auburn's Tre Mason talks of team and family. Saturday, he's in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist after leading the SEC in rushing and touchdowns this season. He's used to the stage. His dad is famous with the group De La Soul. "Music was never my thing. I just was always the one running around," Mason said Friday. Here's his story, which first appeared after just a few games this season. He was already talking about a turnaround season then. His words came true. His stats took off as the season went on, to 1,621 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns for 12-1 Auburn. But the message is the same...

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By Charles Goldberg

Tre Mason's dad has performed all over the world, sold more than 20 million albums, is a member of the hip-hop group De La Soul. 

He's been in the music spotlight for 25 years, and he knows something about center stage. But the first time he saw his son on it, Tre Mason's dad was no longer hip-hop's Maseo or P.A. Pasemaster Mase or music producer, he was Vincent Mason, dad. 

Tre Mason's 97-yard kickoff return for an Auburn touchown in his first college game in 2011 brought out the emotions. 

"I cried like a baby," Vincent Mason said. 

Oh, he was trying to be hip-hop tough. 

"I'm trying to hold back, but I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's my boy. Whoa, whoa, whoa.' At  halftime, I see all of his friends and they're all crying, and I started bawling. It was his dreams coming true." 

The elder Mason knows about dreams. He followed them into music, helping form De La Soul in 1987. The group is still going strong. Tours are booked. Another album is on the way. Mason said he learned something along the way, something his son followed. 

"Maybe doing what I do was a bonus for him, seeing that I was able to live my dream. Since I was a teenager, I've been following my dreams by putting in hard work." 

Tre Mason has put in his hard work in athletics, first at Park Vista High School in Lake Worth, Fla., and then at Auburn, now for three years. He rushed for a 1,000 yards last season; returned a kickoff for 100 yards in the first game this season. He's shared the tailback spot with Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne in the first two games, and is fine doing it. 

"My son has watched me in a group his whole life, so I think he has a concept of being a team player," the elder Mason said. "I think he likes the idea of a team, of being a team effort. That's a natural conversation with him. He sees it as a friendly competition in a very competitive sport. That's one thing I've noticed in him since he was young. I'm overwhelmed because that's naturally him. 

"I call it a gift and a curse. When it comes to music, not everybody is on the same page at the same time. But we all have the same type of goal to win. That's what you have to stand by." 

Football is his game 

Tre Mason says he wants to lead Auburn back from last year's disappointing season, and the next stop for that is Saturday's game against Mississippi State. 

"As leaders on the team we try to remind everyone of the feeling we had last year," Mason  said this week. "We're trying to have a big turnaround this year. We know what that feeling was like and it's not a good feeling. We're trying to have a better feeling than last year, just have a lot of wins and hopefully be undefeated." 

Tre Mason wasn't always going to be a football standout. In fact, he didn't play football his freshman year in high school. He wasn't a big guy, but he wanted to be a basketball star. 

That changed when Park Vista football coach Brian Dodds saw Mason in a drill that featured his leaping ability. 

"My speed guy said, 'Coach, you've got to come over and see this kid.' I went over that and they were calling him Superman because every plyo box he was leaping over them with ease," Dodds said. "I said, 'Who is this young man?' They said he was a basketball player." 

Dodds didn't see it that way. 

"He was short and a little wiry, but you could see where he could get bigger. At spring football that year, we put him at tailback and the very, very first play that he touched the ball there was no doubt. He went through the hole and it was all natural. You look at the coach, and you're, 'Yep, he's the one.'" 

Things quickly changed. 

"We had another kid who was going to be a junior that year who was a really good tailback, but by the end of spring football he transferred because he knew also. There were no doubts what Tre's abilities were."

His reputation grew. Mason rushed for 1,643 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. College recruiters had been calling. He signed with Auburn. 

"He's just a tremendous talent," Dodds said. "As he got older, he got better, better and more mature physically. We knew he was a special football player. And he's one of those kids who is a special person. He worked really, really hard. 

Tre Mason leaves the music to his dad. But his dad sees some of the same traits on the football field. 

"He's in a rhythm," Vincent Mason said. "He's something of an elder statesman at Auburn now. He's happy with the coach. He's just overwhelmed by his decision. He said, 'Daddy, more and more I'm glad I came to Auburn.'" 

The message is in the music 

De La Soul has been described as psychedelic sugar and spice, not hard-core rap. Rolling Stone described one of their albums as a "triumphant coming of age of middle-class, black suburban children of the Seventies." Another review said the group's "thoughtful lyrics, challenged the rap status quo." Vincent Mason still performs with Kelvin Mercer and David Jude Jolicoeur. 

They have one platinum and two gold records and have won a Grammy.

Mason said his son was only on the fringes of the music. But Tre Mason and his brother, Chauncey, did get to see the importance of De La Soul up close at a Hip Hop Honors. 

"They got to meet a lot of their favorite artists. And what was amazing to them was their favorite artists pretty much loved me," Vincent Mason laughed. "At that point they realized the impact I've had on the hip-hop culture... and that the artists showed a lot of respect for me. I think that was inspiring. What I do has kept me away from home a significant amount of time, but by bringing them to festivities, they saw what hard work brings." 

Tre Mason was devoting his energies to athletics as he headed to high school. 

"I knew he was a good football player when he didn't want to play anymore," his dad said. "I think it was the eighth or ninth grade. He was an all-out athlete who enjoyed playing all sports. He didn't play football because he said he wanted to perfect his game of basketball." 

But then Dodds called. 

"He said, 'The way he plays, you can't even coach that,'" his dad said. 

"We sat down with Tre and said we don't want to force you to do something you don't want to do, but something is telling us to have this conversation with you. God has blessed you to have a certain genius and you need to go with it. 

"From the seventh grade on, we'd ask these questions all of the time: 'What do you see? How do get down that field? There looks like there's so much chaos going on, and one point it looks like they've stopped you, and then you come popping out the hole. What's going on?' He said, 'Daddy, I don't know. I just see it. I just see it.' When everybody does their job, I just get there. 

"Those are very simple, humble words. I said if you see it like that, you need to pursue it. 

"I think it was his sophomore year, he started to really do well. He became an overachiever, especially when it came to working out. He became obsessed with it. 

"Also, in your teenage years, you feel the feedback of girls, and that gives you the inspiration to keep going." 

Dodds said through it all Mason has "always been very humble. He's always done what he's been asked to do. He's matured, not only physically, but mentally. He's going to do what's best for the team." 

Dodds is now coaching Chauncey Mason, a receiver and defensive back. 

"And he's the same way:  Very upbeat and works hard; everything is full speed, and tough. They're both tough young men." 

Dodds first saw that with Tre Mason. 

"His mom and dad have done an outstanding job raising him with the qualities that he's able to work with people, do the right things and work hard. I think that's why he's successful now," Dodds said. 

Vincent Mason talks of the times he's been away from home performing. But there was always their mother, Tina. 

"His mom is tough on him and she's tough on Chauncey," Dodds said. "She's just one of those moms that knows the right things to do, and she wants her sons to be really good men, not only on the football field but off the field. She's right there with them. I think she's had a great influence on them. Their dad, too. Those kids are confident and know they can be successful." 

Tre Mason reached one of those memorable college milestones when he rushed for 1,000 yards last season. He got it on the very last play of the very last game. 

"That was one of his goals," his dad said. "When he got close, he wasn't sure he was going to accomplish it." 

But Auburn, in the midst of a troubling season, got one last play on the way against Alabama, and Gene Chizik turned to Mason. 

"Coach Chizik could have taken a knee on the last play, but I think it was his commitment to Tre to give him a chance to get those yards. That's something about his character as a coach and a man," Vincent Mason said. 

Mason is a junior, an Auburn guy first. His dad says his son wants to play in the NFL. 

"That's definitely a goal and a dream of his, but the big thing right now is to get through college," his dad said. "His focus is on his college years. If that opportunity presents itself, he'll deal with when that time comes. Right now, he's focusing on his teammates."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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