UW football: Sophomore Mason hopes to make an impact after injury last spring

2012-03-31T06:00:00Z 2012-03-31T09:09:00Z UW football: Sophomore Mason hopes to make an impact after injury last springTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | Twitter: @TomMulhernWSJ madison.com

It was a move University of Wisconsin wide receiver Marquis Mason has made on the football field countless times before.

"I remember the exact play I was running," Mason said.

It was during spring practices a year ago and Mason was running a "sword" route, also known as a "speed dig route."

He planted his left leg in the turf, a sudden stop, to make his cut back toward the quarterback and fell down.

It didn't seem too bad at the time. The trainers checked him out and thought he was OK. He returned to practice and ran a couple straight go routes with no problem. Then came another dig and the knee buckled.

"I partially tore it, I think, the first time I ran a sword," Mason said. "Then the next time I ran a 16-yard dig, that's when I guess it tore all the way through."

Mason, a third-year sophomore from Madison East High School, missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

"It didn't really hit me until I got home (from the doctor) and realized it was season ending," Mason said. "I really wanted to be out here. I'm from Madison and I just wanted to represent my city and the East Side and the North Side."

One year later, Mason is being given every opportunity to do that. A standout basketball player growing up, who didn't get serious about football until his last two years at East, Mason is full of untapped potential.

"He's just a raw guy," wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. "You hear that word tossed around a lot. He's as raw as they come, which is good. He's a piece of clay right now. We're trying to mold him and make him into a player."

Once clay gets molded, it needs to be fired in a kiln. Perhaps Mason has been through the firing process already with his injury.

"The goal is not to cheat anything," he said of his rehab. "Sometimes I sat there and didn't want to do anything, it hurt so bad. But I realize, it's not going to do anything but help me. It changed my mentality about a lot of things, too.

"I just realized, 'You're hurt but you can still go.' You're going to have little nicks but the goal is to go. If you can do that, you should be able to push yourself on the field and off the field."

After two spring practices, UW coach Bret Bielema declared Mason the most improved player on the roster. With junior Jared Abbrederis sidelined with a foot injury, Mason is one of several young receivers benefiting from extra practice time.

Mason's fresh start following the injury, coincides with a new offense, new coordinator in Matt Canada and new position coach.

"The offense is a lot less complex, which is a great plus for me because I'm able to pick it up quickly," Mason said. "Now, it's just about little technique stuff, like getting in and out of my breaks."

Mason brings a nice combination of size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds), athleticism (mid-major Division I basketball offers) and big hands to the position.

Bielema said during a drill in the first practice, Mason reached back with his left hand to snare a pass behind him.

"Caught it in mid-air, did a complete 360 and took off running," Bielema said. "Didn't put his other hand on it."

Azzanni, a former walk-on wide receiver at Central Michigan, teases Mason about what Azzanni could have done with those physical skills.

"I told him I would be signing my 12th contract in the NFL if I looked like him," the 35-year-old Azzanni said. "He's everything you want a wideout to look like.

"But as we all know, it doesn't matter what you look like, it matters how you play. If we can get him to play as good as he looks, he'll be as good as he wants to be."

Bielema is counting on several young receivers making a big jump under the energetic Azzanni.

"He brings a whole different level of intensity," Mason said. "He's just very excited to be here. He loves football, you can see it in his eyes. One thing he told us right away, he's not going to be soft, he's going to bring intensity. If you can't handle it, you shouldn't be here."

Abbrederis and junior Jeff Duckworth are the top returning receivers. With Nick Toon gone, Mason and 6-5 sophomore Chase Hammond are the biggest targets. They are also roommates and close friends.

"We realize we have a gift not a lot of receivers have," Mason said. "Jared has his (gifts), he's very intelligent. Duck's very detailed. Me and Chase are more athletic, tall guys. That's always a plus."

Azzanni is trying to get Mason to show the same explosion he had on a basketball court on the football field.

"His football IQ might not be as high as we need it to be right now, just because he's not as experienced as he was in basketball," Azzanni said. "He doesn't feel the game as much as he did in basketball. But he's getting there."

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