ATHENS -- Hutson Mason heard the name, and his eyes lit up.
“Oh yeah, Tee Martin, the 1998 national championship? From Mobile, Ala. I know Tee Martin,” Mason said.
And not just by name and reputation. Mason and Martin, whom Mason would very much like to emulate, go back a little.
Before entering the college coaching ranks, Martin coached at North Cobb in Marietta, which is Mason’s hometown. Mason was at a rival high school but got the chance to work with Martin at quarterback training sessions.
“It’s unique. It’s cool because I actually know Tee on a personal level,” Mason said of Martin, now an assistant at Southern Cal. “That’s funny, people say that, I (tell them), ‘Yeah, I know who Tee is. I know Tee really well.’ ”
Martin, for those who need reminding, is famous for taking over as Tennessee’s quarterback in 1998, the year after Peyton Manning’s storied college career ended. Martin subsequently led the Volunteers to the national title as a junior.
This fall, Mason has the task of taking over for Aaron Murray, who just like Manning started for four seasons, and Murray broke some of Manning’s SEC and NCAA records. But like Manning, what Murray didn’t do was lead his team to a national title.
“For me there really is only one goal, and that’s to win a championship,” Mason said. “When you really have only one year left -- and I think Shock could attest to this, too -- you kind of wake up every day with a new purpose. Because you know next year, you’re not gonna get that day back.”
He was referring to D.J. Shockley, who in 2005 took over as Georgia’s starter after playing behind David Greene. Shockley has been a confidant for Mason the past four years.
But while Martin and Shockley are Mason’s models as far as the big picture, Georgia’s quarterback has been studying another quarterback the past few months when it comes to fundamentals.
Tom Brady’s footwork, in the pocket and in his drop-backs, is one of his underrated strengths and a reason the New England Patriots star has such a presence in the pocket.
Mason’s pocket presence was an issue during his two starts at the end of last season, after Murray tore his ACL. So Mason -- who is 6-foot-4, the same height as Brady -- has been watching Brady’s film and trying to emulate his footwork. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo also said he and Mason will be experimenting this spring with how Mason handles his drop-backs.
“Hutson’s a guy we’ve gotta do a good job of keeping on balance,” Bobo said. “Sometimes his feet are too close together, and he kind of gets up on his toes. So we’re looking at Tom Brady, how he keeps a good base in the pocket. That’s what I was showing him.”
Spring practice, which begins a week from Tuesday, will be a bit anticlimactic for Mason. It no longer marks his official takeover of the offense, as that happened when Murray got hurt November.
Mason’s supporting cast also will be missing several key pieces. Malcolm Mitchell, probably the top receiver, will be limited as he returns from ACL surgery and might not participate at all. Jay Rome, the starting tight end, will miss the spring after foot surgery. Justin Scott-Wesley, a potential starting receiver, also will be out after ACL surgery. And Keith Marshall, the No. 2 tailback and a potential receiving target, will be out.
On the other hand, Mason has been throwing to several of those players for years, especially Rome and Scott-Wesley, as their time on second team has largely coincided. Mason and receiver Michael Bennett are roommates and close friends, so their rapport is quite established.
So Mason can use the spring to build or improve his rapport with others, such as tight end Jordan Davis, a redshirt freshman. And the same goes for his offensive line.
“I think there’s a lot of things we can get accomplished,” Mason said, pointing to his offensive line, which needs to find three new starters.
But as Mason prepares for his one shot to lead Georgia to the promised land, the spring also will be a chance to fully put his mark on the offense, especially with his leadership.
“Every little thing you have to do as far as preparation, as far as holding guys accountable, bringing guys along that need to be brought along,” Mason said. “You can’t really sit here and say, ‘Ah, I’ll kind of figure this out,’ or ‘I’ll get my feet wet.’ You’ve kind of gotta go all in. At the end, if that’s my point of view, then win, lose or draw I won’t have any regrets. The regrets will come in if I (decide) I didn’t go all in. I have to hit it head on.
“Because next year I can’t look back and say, ‘I’ve gotta do this different.’ Because there is no next year.”