Shaquille Mason had a familiar feeling as his girlfriend went into labor this past summer, even if he was the first of his Georgia Tech teammates to become a father.
"It was a crazy experience, obviously," Mason said. "Right before she delivered, my mom was asking me how I felt. I was just like, 'I'm kind of excited like game day,' and everybody in the room started laughing. She was like, 'I can't believe you said it was like game day.' It was just an exciting moment."
Mason's girlfriend, Sabrina Gonzalez, gave birth to Kamrie Maleah Mason Aug. 7. His life, and his job as Georgia Tech's starting right guard, has taken on deeper meaning ever since.
— Shaq Mason (@ShaqDiesel_70) October 18, 2014
College football is no longer a game, but a means to an end, with the three-year starter knowing that others are now relying on him more than ever to provide for a family.
"It really forced me to grow up in a major way," Mason said. "You've just got to put yourself last now. You've got a mouth to feed, you've got a family now. And you just see things from a whole nother perspective.
"I take football 10 times more seriously," he later added. "I go into every game, every situation thinking I've got a mouth to feed, so it just puts that extra drive in me."
Kamrie lives with Sabrina and Sabrina's mother in Columbia, Tennessee. Sabrina, Mason's girlfriend since high school, is enrolled in Martin Methodist College, where she is on the soccer team. (She is currently taking a medical redshirt.)
The family makes the four-hour drive down to Atlanta about every other weekend to visit Mason, who relishes the time he gets to spend with his baby girl. Too young to handle the atmosphere at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Kamrie will often get to see her father after his work day is done, and then it is off to fun activities.
"Not too long ago we all went to the aquarium," Mason said. "She was too young to know what was going on, but we went to the aquarium and we enjoyed that. But most of the time we just chill. I just spend as much time with her as possible since I don't see her as much, so I just try to get that quality time in."
The other duties are, well, less fun for Mason.
"I stay as far away from diaper duty as possible, but I can't get away from it as much as I want to," he laughed. "I change diapers occasionally. It takes me a lot more time than it takes her to do it, so she's like, 'Just stop, I got it.'"
Mason is the only father on the Yellow Jackets team, but he said Georgia Tech's coaching staff offered him plenty of advice throughout the summer when he was bracing for the major addition to his life.
"I think he's mature," head coach Paul Johnson said of Mason. "I haven't seen a whole lot of change in him personally. I think he's been a fairly mature guy. He likes to play the game. He's physical, and without question, he's a leader for us on offense and our best player up front."
There's another driving factor, too. Mason grew up in a single-parent home, something he says makes it all the more important for him to try to be the male role model for his daughter that he never had. The parenting skills and love he has to share stem from his mother, Alicia McGuire.
"She's been my biggest support system my whole life," Mason said. "Being a single mother, raising me to be the man I am today. Any time something's going bad, I just turn to her. She gives me advice, words of encouragement. She's my backbone. It's great to have her in my corner."