AUBURN, Ala. -- Tre Mason didn't show up at Auburn with a silver spoon in his mouth. He's the son of a famous musician -- his father, Vincent, was a member of the popular hip-hop group De La Soul -- but that doesn't mean he's accustomed to wealth and unaccustomed to struggles.
Tre was born in New York City. Success for Vincent wasn't immediate, and in the beginning the Masons stayed with Tre's grandmother as the life of a starving artist took its often circuitous route.
Vincent's career took time to blossom. De La Soul didn't sell more than 20 million records overnight. And now, as Tre rests on the eve of the Heisman Trophy ceremony in his native New York, he can fully understand what that road to fame is like.
Tre came to Auburn as a middle-of-the-pack recruit, hung on through last year's 3-9 season, and after Gus Malzahn was hired as head coach last offseason, Tre wasn't even the team's top tailback, instead starting the season as part of a three-man rotation.
Like everything else in life, reaching No. 1 on the charts had to be earned.
"I worked toward it," Tre said. "There's a lot of goals and dreams that I have. I remember saying my goal in the beginning of the season was 1,500 yards, and people said, 'Oh, that's too much.'
"Like my mom said, 'Whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve.' So I surpassed that, and I'm looking forward to keeping it going."
Mom might have dispensed the wisdom, but Dad taught him the value of motivation.
"My dad being who he is also made me more hungry, because he started from the bottom," Tre explained. "He's come from nothing, and he worked his way up. He doesn't give us everything. He makes us work for everything we have to make us as hungry as he was."
Tre has shown himself to be hungry, all right. The way he carried the ball a record 46 times during the SEC championship game Saturday, he left no doubt about his own will to succeed. Malzahn came to the sideline at one point during the game to check on him and see if he had any more gas in the tank. Malzahn said Tre had a "look in his eye" when he told him, "Coach, keep giving it to me." By the time the game was over and Auburn had won, Tre had racked up an eye-popping 304 yards and four touchdowns.
At one point, Tre let emotions get the better of him. He scored a touchdown, lifted his leg, feigned a stiff arm and gave the classic Heisman pose.
"Some people were telling me to do it," Tre explained. "But it was just this emotion going through my body at the time, and it just came out and I did it."
Tre's flamboyant celebration might have been a premonition of sorts, as he has completed the unlikely jump from the very fringe of the Heisman Trophy conversation to dead center as one of six finalists for the most recognizable individual award in college football. Florida State QB Jameis Winston is the favorite to take home the prize, but Tre is a dark-horse candidate.
Dee Ford, Auburn's veteran defensive end, tried to bolster Tre's campaign after Auburn won the SEC title, telling reporters, "Tre for Heisman! It's going viral!"
And why shouldn't it? If all it takes is a "Heisman moment" like the one Johnny Manziel had against Alabama last year, what does that say for Tre? He has had arguably two such performances in the past two weeks, first rushing for 164 yards and a touchdown in a narrow win over then-No. 1-ranked Bama before doing all he did against a Missouri defense that many considered among the best in the country.
Malzahn himself had to switch course, stating his quarterback's case for the Heisman one week before stumping for his running back the very next.
"He's one of the best players in college football, there's no doubt," Malzahn said of Tre. "He proved that [against Missouri]. You look at what he's done in this league, especially as of late against very good defenses, and the way he runs -- I think he has 22 touchdowns, which is the most, I believe, in single-season SEC history."
Win or lose the Heisman, Tre's run to New York this season will be remembered for years to come. It wasn't an easy route to the national stage, but Tre has earned it. Now if only he can become the most famous person in his family.
"My dad has a lot more experience than me," he said, grinning. "He's a legend."