AUBURN, Ala. — Tre Mason made his final carry of Monday night’s BCS championship game count.
The junior running back bounced to his right, found a seam and leveled Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey — who attempted to come up and make a tackle to no avail — on his way to a 37-yard touchdown with 1:19 remaining.
It will double as the final score of Mason’s career as a Tiger.
On Thursday, Mason announced he would skip his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
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“After all the thought and talking with my family, friends, my mom and dad talked to me over and over again. Lots of conversations with them,” he said. “I'm going to declare for the 2014 draft.”
Mason said his father — Vincent Mason, known as DJ Maseo of the Grammy-winning hip-hop trio De La Soul — played a “big role” in his decision, factoring in the compressed shelf life of most running backs in the NFL.
“They told me that the lifespan of a running back in the NFL is very short,” Mason said. “I had a great year. Also Coach (Gus) Malzahn helped me with this decision. He said that I had a very good year this year and he was expecting this.”
What attributes does Malzahn believe Mason will provide his future team?
“They're getting one of the tougher individuals in all of college football,” the coach said. “He can run between the tackles, he's got great courage, he plays his best games in his biggest games, and he's a good receiver out of the backfield also.”
Mason showed off his pass-catching ability Monday night, hauling in a 12-yard touchdown for the Tigers’ first score. But Mason made his name this season keeping the ball on the ground. The Heisman finalist broke Bo Jackson’s single-season school rushing mark (1,786 yards in 1985) with his 195 yards against the Seminoles — setting the record on the 37-yard touchdown jaunt to finish with 1,816 yards.
He also established records for rushing touchdowns in a single campaign (23; school-high and tied for SEC-best with Tim Tebow), scoring (144 points; most in Auburn history) and consecutive 100-yard games (six; most in Auburn’s annals).
In his final two games, Mason carried the ball 80 times, part of his 317 rushing attempts this season, second only to Rudi Johnson’s 2000 campaign (324 attempts) in the Tigers’ record book.
Mason admitted that the workload was something he took into account during the discussions with his inner circle.
“It does take a little wear and tear on your body, but I embraced that,” he said. “Getting the ball in your hands and having a coach that has faith having the ball in your hands to make that play. That's a good feeling."
The Florida native reflected on how much he had changed as a player since he first joined the Tigers. He noted he came in small and frail, recruited strictly on his speed. Arriving in Auburn at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, people told him he was “too small” to play running back and take a pounding as an every-down back in the SEC.
How times have changed.
He departs at a chiseled 205 pounds, crediting all the coaches he’s been with for helping him make strides in multiple areas.
“(Strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell and also Coach (Kevin) Yox helped me get bigger, stronger and faster,” Mason said. “And coaches like (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and (running backs) Coach (Tim) Horton, they helped me with some things I needed to work on, like ball security and just becoming a better running back and also a better man. Without these guys as a coaching staff, it would be hard to say that ... They helped me be a better man and the man I am today.”
Mason's evolution as a player and a person will continue while he attempts to carve out a niche in the NFL.
“It was a dream since I was young,” he said. “I'm a dream chaser, and now I'm just trying to make a dream into reality.”