Coming out of high school, Auburn running back Tre Mason was listed at 5-foot-9 and 185-pounds.
He was a special talent, but there were questions about his durability and whether or not he could carry the load at the next level.
From Recruiting Nation's scouting report, “While shifty and difficult to tackle as a high school back, we question his durability if asked to run consistently between the tackles and how much yards-after-contact production he can earn at the major college level.”
After Saturday’s performance against Texas A&M, there are few, if any, who still doubt Mason’s durability. The junior carried the ball 27 times for 178 yards and a touchdown as Auburn knocked off the then-No. 7 Aggies on the road.
“He’s a tough guy, an extremely tough guy,” head coach Gus Malzahn said after the game. “He was a little banged up coming into the game, and he really rose to the occasion.”
There were two runs in particular that were indicative of Mason's day and how far he’s come.
In the second quarter, Auburn faced a 4th-and-1 from inside the Texas A&M 5-yard line. The Tigers already trailed 14-10, and although they knew they had to get points, they didn’t want to settle for a field goal with Johnny Manziel on the opposite sideline. The coaches decided to give the ball to Mason.
“The game was one the line, and we needed to score every time we touch the ball,” Mason said. “It was 4th-and-1, and those are the things that I have to do. As an impact player, I have to be the one to make a play.
“We needed that yard, and I did all I could to get that yard. I followed my fullback. I ran behind my line. They did their job, so I had to do mine and I got that extra yardage.”
Mason picked up that yard and a couple more to set up Auburn with a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Tigers scored three plays later and took back the lead.
“That was a great run,” Malzahn said. “He ran over two of their guys and Jay Prosch, I think he ran over him, too. That was an impressive run. There’s a lot of backs [who] wouldn’t have got that.”
The second run came in the fourth quarter with Auburn trailing 41-38. The Tigers had driven down to the 5-yard line again thanks in large part to Mason, who had already gained 31 yards on the drive. The coaches handed him the ball one more time, and he responded with a 5-yard touchdown run, reaching the ball across for the final yard.
“A lot of people say don’t leave those guys too much time on the clock,” Mason said. “From an offensive standpoint, we didn’t want to take a chance of either getting a penalty or them stopping us. I kind of used Reese Dismukes as a bridge, rolled over the top of him and stuck the ball out for a touchdown. It all worked out well.”
The defense did its part, and the run ended up being the game-winning touchdown.
Mason had plenty of good runs against Texas A&M, but it was those two that really epitomized his day and really his season as a whole. He’s no longer thought of as a running back who can’t run in between the tackles or who can’t pick up yards after contact. He’s completely changed his M.O. from high school.
“I was always looked at as underrated or an underdog,” he said. “I’m just trying to prove to everyone that maybe I’m not what they expected. I don’t want to be an underdog anymore.”
The same can be said for Auburn. The Tigers are 6-1, but it took the victory over Texas A&M for people to take them seriously. Now they’re ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings and a legitimate threat to Alabama in the SEC West. They’re no longer an underdog either.
“Our goal is the national championship,” Mason said. “It’s a team goal. And it’s not going to change. We feel like we’ve been getting better every week. We’re just going forward and trying to get better every week. Who knows how far we go?”