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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Damon Mason – Football 1991, ’94, ’95,’96

Mason built reputation as fearless performer

By Bruce Brown

Athletic Network

The Texas A&M Aggies never knew what hit them.

 

When they arrived at Cajun Field 20 years ago, they expected to dispatch USL’s Ragin’ Cajuns and head back across the Sabine River to Texas.

 

After all, they were a ranked team – despite falling to Brigham Young – and the Cajuns were sliced up by Florida in their only previous 1996 outing. The Aggies planned to win.

 

Oddly enough, so did the Cajuns.

 

We were very confident,” said safety Damon Mason, whose No. 9 is retired on the Cajun Field wall largely off of his banner 1996 senior campaign. “People kept asking us ‘What are you going to do against a big-time program?’

 

But we didn’t care.”

 

The Cajuns stunned the Aggies 29-22 in front of a feverish crowd of 38,783, still the school’s only win over a top 25 program.

 

Mason returned an interception 42 yards for the first Cajun touchdown, Charles Johnson got another with a 17-yard fumble runback and Britt Jackson’s 30-yard interception gave the Cajun defense three of the team’s four TD’s.

 

They’d lost at BYU (41-37) and we knew their strengths and weaknesses,” Mason said. “I knew they weren’t going to come in and just run the ball for four quarters. If they did run, and the tight end blocks, that just frees me up to make plays.

 

On my first interception, they got cute. From the formation they were in, I knew they were going to throw to the back in the flat. I remembered their tendencies. We faked blitz, and when they didn’t block me it left me free to play the ball.”

 

Mason thrived in such settings, with a clear aim in mind.

 

I figured if I played well against big schools, it could get me drafted,” said Mason, who blocked a punt, had an interception and forced a fumble at Florida.

 

Mason did all he could do to get noticed that season. He led the Cajuns with 135 tackles (81 solo) and four interceptions, broke up 10 passes and forced four fumbles.

 

He was the All-Louisiana MVP and All-South Independent MVP, as well as third-team All-American.

 

He finished his college career with 243 tackles as the heir apparent to Orlando Thomas’s remarkable standard at safety.

 

Mason and Thomas both arrived in 1991, but while Crowley product Thomas played through the 1994 season, Destrehan’s Mason took a junior college detour and returned for 1994, ’95 and ’96.

 

Orlando and Tim Sensley showed us how to work,” Mason said. “We watched them to see how to dress, walk, talk and play. They held you to that standard and we all bonded both on and off the field.

 

The safety is the leader on defense, and I wanted to make the position my own. I always felt I would be a success. God blessed me with talent. As a freshman, I told people I was here to play ball and go to school.

 

I was on a mission.”

 

His approach was born at Destrehan High.

 

It taught me to be disciplined,” Mason said. “You played hard for four quarters. Had to get permission to take off your helmet. If you scored a touchdown, you stood on the (side)line, ready to go again.

 

I don’t know how to stop.”

 

 

A different path

 

Productive but considered undersized by NFL standards, Mason went undrafted and had to find a new way to extend his career.

 

I ran a 4,43 40 for the Saints, but Mike Ditka was the coach and he was about to be fired,” Mason said. “I tried the Canadian Football League, but that didn’t work out.”

 

But Mason found a home in the Arena Football League, and carved out a stellar career from 1998-2011.

 

By the time he retired as a player-coach with the New Orleans Voodoo, Mason had amassed 1,009 tackles – the most in league history, in addition to 44 interceptions, 173 pass break-ups, 21 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries.

 

As a rookie, Mason returned an interception for a touchdown to help the Orlando Predators rout Tampa Bay 62-31 in Arena Bowl XIV, and his two career postseason TD returns equal the most in league annals.

 

Orlando was crowned again in 2000, 41-37 over Nashville, as Mason earned the first of three straight second-team All-AFL honors.

 

He also played with New Jersey, Las Vegas, Carolina, Grand Rapids (Mich.), Austin and Utah before finishing up close to home with the Voodoo.

 

Arena ball gave me an opportunity to play and to compete, to play my type of football,” said Mason. “It is exactly what you see, a very fast game in a small, compact setting.

 

I once said it was something I’d never do. It looked like suicide. But it was a great opportunity for me and guys like me.”

 

 

Bitten by the bug

 

Mason, who lives in Conyers, Ga., with wife Tanya and sons Collin, 7, and 4-year-old Caleb – “my two first-rounders” – works as “a bomb specialist” for TSA. But 6 seasons as a player-coach in the AFL in addition to high school coaching stints in Destrehan and Dunwoody, Ga., have given him other ideas.

 

I still want to coach,” he said. “I’ve developed a lot of good relationships. Hopefully I can build on my credentials and make a career for myself. It’s ironic that 6 of my 12 (AFL) years were spent as a player-coach. That makes it easy to transition.

 

As a coach I helped them learn what they had to do, then block the rest out. You learn how to study, how to listen. You learn the speed of the game. It’s one thing to play the game, another to know the game.

 

I taught cornerbacks how to hit like safeties, and safeties how to cover like corners. There’s an art to becoming a complete defensive back – take the right angle, get the proper step, the right direction.

 

When I played, I could hit, and I knew the game of football. We just wanted to go play football. If we win, great.”

 

Mason and his Ragin’ Cajun teammates played the Aggies off their feet on that steamy September night 20 years ago, and walked away with a win that made history.

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Click here for the video of Damon Mason’s interception vs. Texas A&M in 1996, won by the Cajuns at Cajun Field, 29-22.

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Click here for the 1991 Football photo gallery, when Damon is on the front row wearing jersey #4.

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Click here for the 1996 Football photo gallery, center on second row – tribute to Damon. Click on thumbnail to enlarge and again to reverse process.

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes. 

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