Georgia’s Mason is well-respected but has little experience

semerson@macon.comMarch 26, 2013 

ATHENS -- For a long time, a Georgia football teammate was trying to find the perfect description for Hutson Mason, a fiery backup quarterback. It finally hit Chris Conley this week, and now a nickname is born: Hutson Manning.

Yes, that’s right. But it’s not so much for Mason’s passing abilities. It’s his demeanor.

“He’s always barking orders. He’s always telling people to hurry up and get lined up. He sounds like Peyton Manning,” Conley said. “It works for me, so I’ll be calling him that from now on.”

There is the small issue of Mason never having started a game in college. Or ever having thrown a pass when a game was in doubt.

But it’s clear from talking to Mason’s teammates that he has their trust. It’s based on how Mason has handled himself in practice and scrimmages. They feel that when Aaron Murray leaves after next season, or if injury presses Mason into duty sooner, that Mason will be more than capable.

“Going into this offseason with Aaron’s decision, whether he came back or decided to go, there was complete and total peace around here with the offense, because we knew that Hutson was capable of doing some of the same things, doing a lot of the great things. Because we’ve seen it day in and day out,” Conley said.

It helps that Mason has such a commanding presence in the huddle and at the line. But he also has a strong arm, as evidenced by leaving Lassiter four years ago as the Georgia state record-holder in single-season passing yards (4,560) and passing touchdowns (54).

Mason hasn’t had a chance to show that off at Georgia yet, what with Murray setting Georgia records and staying healthy. Mason was at least the No. 1 quarterback Thursday, when Murray was excused from a scrimmage so he could receive an award in Atlanta.

But otherwise, Mason knows his chance must wait until Murray leaves. And that has been a source of frustration, which has twice led Mason to consider transferring. He has said he was “99 percent gone” after the 2011 season, before coaches offered to let him redshirt in 2012. Then Mason considered it again after Murray elected to return for 2013. But again, he decided to stay with the Bulldogs.

“I realized how hard it is to leave here. And especially being an in-state kid, it really weighed on my heart,” Mason said. “And I just really believe that I can do something special here, whether that’s helping the team out in a small way or in a big year. But I signed my letter-of-intent here, and I never really wanted to be known as a quitter, no matter how hard it go. That really paid dividends in my decision.”

The redshirt might have been ideal for Mason’s long-term career, as he now at least should have a full senior season to be the starter. But it made last year a bit harder. That’s why he feels more upbeat this spring.

“Any time you know you’re going into a redshirt year, truth be told you know you’re not gonna get to play, so that’s not very exciting,” Mason said, with a chuckle. “Just to know anything’s possible, anything can happen this year, I’m excited. It seems like it has been forever since I’ve been in Sanford Stadium or got to play. So it really has given me more pep in my step, it allows me to be a little more excited to go out to practice, and to prepare, because eventually that’s gonna pay off. Whereas last year everything I was putting in was really for no reward.”

But he doesn’t feel as rusty as a redshirting player would have been. He was in uniform for every game, traveled to every road game, and through the SEC championship game, there was always the possibility he would play if something happened to Murray. Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo were constantly preaching that he be ready, which entailed being physically and mentally ready to play.

They’ll preach the same thing this year, but this time Mason definitely will play. Richt, when he sat down with Mason a few months ago, didn’t promise him any specific playing time but, according to Mason, the head coach said the quarterback would be happy with his playing time.

“My role is the same this year, but I’ve always believed when I get that one shot you’ve gotta make the most of it, whether it’s in practice or in the film room with Coach Bobo,” Mason said. “And the thing is I think the coaches know I’m ready. I’ve been at that point where I’m dependable. They can trust me if I go int that game. Now it’s just about going in there and backing up that talk.”

Whether or not the “Hutson Manning” nickname sticks -- and it will take Mason actually playing -- Conley thinks Georgia is in good shape.

“I love playing with him and Murray. As long as we’ve got these guys here I’m completely comfortable playing receiver for them, because I know what they’re thinking, and I know what they’re gonna do with the ball,” Conley said.

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