Tre Mason headed to NFL draft

AUBURN, Ala. -- Tre Mason finished the season as well as any player in college football, and he hopes to carry that momentum to the next level.

The junior running back announced Thursday that he will forgo his senior season at Auburn and declare for May's NFL draft.

"It's been my dream since I was young, and I'm a dream chaser," Mason said. "I'm just trying to make a dream into a reality."

Mason, who said he was given a third-round grade by the league's draft advisory committee, led the SEC and was fifth nationally with 1,816 yards rushing.

It was a late surge, however, that earned him an invite to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and caught the eye of NFL scouts, ultimately raising his draft stock.

It started against No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, when Mason rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown. He followed that with a career-high 304 yards and four touchdowns against No. 5 Missouri in the SEC championship game.

To cap it off, Mason rushed for 195 yards and a touchdown on college football's biggest stage -- the Vizio BCS National Championship -- as Auburn fell short against Florida State 34-31 on Monday.

"The [NFL] is getting one of the tougher individuals in all of college football," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "He can run between the tackles. He has great courage. He played his best games in the biggest games, and he's a good receiver out of the backfield, also."

Mason broke Bo Jackson's school record of 1,786 yards set during Jackson's 1985 Heisman season, and the Tigers finished the season as the first SEC team to lead the nation in rushing.

Mason was the second Auburn player to declare early, joining redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who announced his decision Tuesday via Twitter.

Even with the departures of Mason and Robinson, the Tigers will have eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense and should be primed to make another run at the national title.

At running back, juniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will be next in line to pick up where Mason left off. Both players finished among the top 20 rushers in the SEC this season. Artis-Payne, the more physical of the two, rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns, while Grant, the speed back, rushed for 647 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 9.8 yards per carry.

"Those guys are ready," Mason said. "They were ready this year. I've seen a lot of talent in those guys, and they're very hard workers starting from Peyton Barber all the way up to Cameron Artis-Payne. Those guys work hard, and that's something I know they're going to continue to do."

Auburn also has a commitment from ESPN 300 running back Racean Thomas, who could factor into the mix next season.