Updated: Tre Mason announced as one of six finalists for Heisman Trophy

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 9, 2013 

AUBURN, Ala.Tre Mason struck Heisman poses after a pair of touchdown runs against Missouri this past weekend.

He might get the opportunity to stand next to the real thing Saturday.

It was announced Monday that Auburn's junior running back will head to New York City later this week as one of six finalists for this year's Heisman Trophy. The group boasts a quartet of quarterbacks, which includes last year's winner in Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel as well as Jameis Winston of Florida State, AJ McCarron of Alabama and Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois. Mason is joined by one other running back in Boston College's Andre Williams.

Being a finalist for the most prestigious award in college football was nearly too much for Mason to handle.

“When I heard the news, I was in disbelief," he said in a statement released by the university Monday night. "This has been such a season for our team and we are going to the national championship. For me to be invited to the Heisman ceremony, I am honored and blessed. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates; this is an honor for all of them also.”

To win the bronze trophy, Mason will have to overcome the front-runner, Winston, who Auburn will face in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 6. Winston has passed for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns — both FBS records for a freshman — en route to leading Florida State to a 13-0 record. Mason said he doesn't know the Hueytown, Ala., native, but pointed out they share plenty of "mutual friends" on the Seminoles.

Now he's glad to finally have the chance to meet the talented first-year signal-caller in person.

"It's going to be cool," he said. "... It's going to be a friendly competition."

Monday's news came as no surprise to Gus Malzahn. Auburn's head coach said Sunday night that Mason deserved to pack his bags for the Big Apple, calling him "one of the best players in college football."

"He proved that (Saturday)," Malzahn said. "You look at what he's done in this league, especially as of late against very good defenses and the way he runs, I think he has 22 touchdowns, which is the most, I believe, in single-season SEC history. There's been some pretty good running backs in this league."

Malzahn was off by one — Florida quarterback Tim Tebow ran for 23 scores in his Heisman-winning campaign in 2007 — but with the national title game remaining, Mason could set the record.

As it is, Mason leads the SEC in rushing yards (1,621), touchdowns (22) and yards per game (124.7). He's coming off a phenomenal performance in last Saturday's SEC Championship. Almost every statistic attributed to Mason following the game was a personal, school or SEC title game record. He carried 46 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns, with all three totals rewriting the SEC Championship game's record books.

His 46 carries also eclipsed the previous single-game record at Auburn, which had been shared by Carnell Williams and Michael Dyer at 41 apiece.

Mason admitted he was still feeling the after-effects of his workload.

"Of course feeling a little sore after however many carries I had," he said Sunday night, "(but) that's just how you feel after a game."

At some point, Malzahn said, they were expecting Mason to call for a breather.

It never came.

"As you’re going and we’re pacing, (running backs) Coach (Tim) Horton, (offensive coordinator) Coach Rhett Lashlee and myself are always talking. 'How is he?' You worry about running backs getting fatigued and fumbling the ball, making mistakes," Malzahn said. "Tre had that look on his face. In between series, I’d go ask him, ‘You OK?’ He said, ‘Coach, keep giving it to me. We’re going to win the SEC championship.’ He had that look in his eyes. We weren’t going to take him out unless he took himself out."

Thanks to his outstanding efforts this season, Mason has put himself in position to capture Auburn's fourth Heisman Trophy, joining Pat Sullivan (1971), Bo Jackson (1985) and Cam Newton (2010).

Jackson spent Saturday night on Auburn's sideline, speaking to Mason prior to kickoff.

"He said he was going to have eyes on me like a hawk, making sure I've got the ball tucked in tight and (he) just coached me throughout the game," Mason said. "'Play at a different level. You know, if you're going to be great, you've got to play great.' He kept me motivated."

And what did the incomparable Jackson have to say once the game was done?

"He was like, 'You're probably one of the best players to ever put on an Auburn helmet,'" Mason said. "He just was thanking me for being here. I was thanking him for being a mentor to me."

With his spot among the final six secure, Mason knows there is nothing else he can do until Saturday's ceremony, when the 79th winner will be revealed just after 8:50 p.m. ET.

"It's just all left up to the votes now," he said.

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