ATHENS -- Hutson Mason and D.J. Shockley have exchanged a lot of phone calls and text messages the past few years. Their times with the Georgia football program didnt come close to overlapping: Shockley left in 2005, Mason arrived in 2010. And yet Mason this week called Shockley the most influential person of his college career.
This week, their exchange had a new ring to it. Masons time is here.
I only get 16 games in my career, so its not a lot of time to leave a legacy, to leave a mark, said Mason, hopefully counting one extra game next season. But Im very thankful for the opportunity I have now, to get some experience. Im thankful for the opportunity I have against (Georgia) Tech, because I think that can go a long way.
The Bulldogs are also hoping for some short-term benefit.
By this point, the Georgia football team seems emotionally spent after a season of stirring wins, heart-wrenching losses and numerous injuries to key players, the latest to their star quarterback.
Clearly, the Bulldogs would rather enter their regular-season finale with Aaron Murray. But the longtime starters season-ending injury ushers in the start of the Mason era and with it some added juice for Saturdays game against Georgia Tech. Some, if not most, of the Bulldogs might be weary and needing the Georgia Tech rivalry to provide a spark this week.
But not Mason. He has been waiting for this moment since he arrived on campus in 2010. As Murray became a star, and a very durable one, Mason often thought of transferring and admitted that some weeks it felt useless to prepare to play.
When I first got here and I realized that Aaron was gonna be the man and I was gonna have to play second fiddle, so to speak, for a while, thoughts like that did come into my head, Mason said. When I met with (head coach Mark) Richt -- twice, after two seasons -- I tried to figure out where was the best fit for me. And I told Coach Richt this, especially when I was meeting him at the end of the season: My heart was telling me one thing, and my pride was telling me the other thing.
My heart wanted to be a Georgia Bulldog, but I knew I just wanted to play. And I knew time was just running out.
Shockley also had also had to wait, sitting behind David Greene for three years. But Shockley did see plenty of action during those years, often playing every third series.
Mason didnt get that chance, in large part because he and Murray are similar enough quarterbacks, unlike Shockley and Greene. But Shockley served as a confidant as Mason contemplated transferring. Shockley also thought about it but stayed put and ended up having one of the best individual quarterback seasons in Georgia history.
Mason always knew next year would be his turn. Murrays injury now puts the onus on Mason against Georgias in-state rival.
Its going to be a big test on him. Because this responsibility has been given to him earlier than expected, Georgia receiver Chris Conley said. Its really a time for him to step up and really be that leader of the team now. And to take the team and put it on his back. Were excited about it. I dont think anybodys nervous or scared about it. Were more excited than anything.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo first saw him the spring before Masons senior year in high school at Lassiter. Bobo was impressed with Masons command, leadership and accuracy. But at the time, the Bulldogs werent going to take a quarterback in that class, after taking Murray and Zach Mettenberger for the 2009 signing class. So Bobo just filed away in his mind that he liked the potential of Mason, who had good size (6-foot-3).
Then Richt changed his mind and decided to take a quarterback, a fortuitous decision as it turned out, because Mettenberger was dismissed from the program. So Georgia offered Mason, a consensus three-star prospect.
He was a guy I liked, Bobo said. He was a winner. He doesnt have the strongest arm in the world. But he throws the ball on time and was extremely accurate. And what he did at that school. It was not a traditionally winning program. He turned it around; that speaks volumes of his leadership ability.
During the next three-plus seasons, Mason gradually earned the respect of teammates on both sides of the ball, to the point that when Murray was thinking of leaving for the NFL after last season, many said they wouldnt be worried because of Mason.
Hes so ready to play, Conley said. Hes a really ambitious guy. He has that kind of energy about him. When he comes into a huddle, its fearlessness.
Junior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson, who has faced Mason in practice for three years, praised the quarterbacks decision-making.
A real smart quarterback. Makes smart decisions, Wilson said. Thats what you need in a quarterback. Hes a patient quarterback. He takes his time. And makes every throw.
Mason, speaking earlier this week, said this week hasnt been that much different than most. He came in as usual Sunday, watched film and came in Monday to go over the game plan. The only difference is knowing what awaited on game day.
Hes got a very good grip on this offense, center David Andrews said. Heck, hes been in it for four years now. Its not like were missing a beat; it feels like hes been starting all season.