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Former Football: Damon Mason still going strong

Brady Aymond, Daily Advertiser, July 7, 2011

Damon Mason may be the most famous anonymous person ever to walk the UL campus.

The 5-9, 195-pound former Ragin' Cajun standout is one of only seven players to have their jerseys retired at UL.

Chances are, though, you couldn't pick him out of a crowd, even if he was standing on your foot.

"It was the weirdest thing because I could be walking around campus and walk up on people talking about me and they wouldn't even know who I was," Mason said. "People knew Mason and they knew number nine, but wouldn't know me if I walked up to them and said hello."

While Mason's face wasn't instantly recognizable in public, his name and number certainly were. And in keeping a promise he made on the very first day he arrived on campus, Mason left behind a legacy at UL that continues to resonate to this day.

"A couple of years ago, I actually met (former UL standout and current Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback) Ike Taylor for the first time," Mason said.

"Somebody introduced me to him and I said, "So you're the Ike Taylor I've been hearing about."

"And he looked at me and said 'No, you're THE Damon Mason.'"

Mason's football career has come full circle recently, as he's back in Louisiana for the first time since playing his collegiate ball with the Cajuns. In June, Mason signed with the New Orleans VooDoo of the arena football league to continue his 12-year career in professional football.

Coming back home

"To be honest, I had given it up," said Mason, a LaPlace native and former Destrehan standout. "Before the league folded, we were making pretty good money. Guys were getting 70-90K a year to play. After the league folded and came back, guys were making $400 a week. It just came a time that I had to get a full-time job, something to pay the bills.

"It wasn't always about the money, but with a wife and a little one and another on the way, you do what you have to do. So I did my thing in coaching (recently at Dunwoody High in Georgia) and just continued to follow the league from a distance."

As it turns out, it was in the process of following the league that he found out the VooDoo had just hired one of his friends — Derek Stingley — to coach the team. Mason gave Stingley a call and joked about coming out of retirement.

Turns out, there was a little more to Mason's joking.

"This all happened around my birthday because that's when we found out we had another (baby) on the way,' Mason said. "I was like Donkey on Shrek, 'Man, I gotta find me another job.' I feel like the opportunity was a blessing to us. I was able to come back home and play in my home state and my wife (Tanya) was able to come back, and be closer to her parents.

"It's been real nice. It feels natural. I stay with my in-laws. I come home and see my parents after practice. There's a lot of things I'm doing. My son (Collin) gets to see both sides of his family. It's just good being back home."

Remembering the glory days

Mason arrived at the UL campus in 1992 as a brash, young superstar with the attitude to match. He remembers vividly walking on campus and thinking one day he was going to make a name for himself

"I remember in 1992, Mr. C (Danny Cottonham) had all of the athletes from all of the respective sports in a big meeting in the auditorium," Mason said. "He asked a question and it went like 'Of all of you out here, who among you thinks you are ready to play right now?'

"I was the only one in the entire auditorium that raised my hand. People looked at me like I was crazy, because I wasn't supposed to raise my hand.But I was there to play football, and I intended on playing right away."

Mason didn't play right away, though. In fact, he didn't even survive a year at UL. He failed his first semester of school, got put on probation and then was subsequently suspended after not passing his second semester.

Even though Mason didn't make his mark in the classroom, he did so on the practice field.

"There were a lot of guys that flunked out and never heard from again," Mason said. "The coaches came to me and said, 'What if we can get you a place to get your grades up and you'll be able to keep playing football?' I didn't know what to say.

"I was a freshman who never played a down and just flunked out and they saw something in me to call me and get me help. Why help me out when I haven't proved anything? But they did and I was All-State at Jones County (Junior College)."

Despite blossoming offers from bigger schools, Mason stuck by his commitment to the Cajuns and returned to the campus in 1994. He again had to wait his time behind older players, but he slowly made a reputation for himself on kickoff teams and as a backup.

By the time his junior year rolled around, he was in the starting lineup and well on his way to becoming a household name.

He finished his career with 243 total tackles, 28 tackles for loss, four sacks and six interceptions.

No interceptions were as big as the two he had in the Cajuns' monumental upset of Texas A&M at The Swamp, which garnered Mason Sports Illustrated's Player of the Week honors.

"How much do I remember from that game?" Mason asked. "You're making my mom laugh asking me that question. I remember everything about that game. I remember that (the stats crew) took a sack away from me in that game. I remember the week before the game. Oh yeah, I remember everything about it."

Mason even remembers thinking there was no way Texas A&M was leaving Cajun Field with a win.

"We watched film the week before and they had a nice little running back, was running all over everybody," Mason said. "I remember turning to Britt (Jackson) and saying 'I like his style, but they got another thing coming if they think they gonna come to Cajun Field and run all over us.'"

There was also another thing Mason knew when he was at UL. He knew that one day his number would sit alongside Orlando Thomas' number on the wall at Cajun Field.

"I can even remember when I said it," Mason said with a chuckle. "It was at two-a-days and they were playing some music over the loud speaker. They were playing New Edition and I was on the sideline dancing.

"I remember looking at Britt Jackson and telling him, 'Before I leave here, my name will be right next to Orlando Thomas.'

"In the spring of 1997, I forgot who it was that called to tell me, but I told Britt 'I told you! They're going to retire my number!'"

Full circle

Now Mason finds himself just a couple hours away from the place where he first made his name on the national level. He admits he hasn't been back to campus as much as he'd like, but living in Georgia the last six years have kept him from being able to spend a lot of time in Louisiana.

"I've been back a couple of times, but just quick visits," Mason said. "I do plan on coming down this fall more. I want to be there for Homecoming and I definitely want to meet the new coach and see coach (Tim) Rebowe again."

The VooDoo have three games left in the regular season, then Mason plans to return to Georgia for the time being. He said he'd like to continue his career path into coaching, and says he'd love for one day to return to Louisiana.

"Coaching is the direction I'd like to go," Mason said. "I kind of view this run with the VooDoo as an audition of sorts as player-coach. I want to continue doing this. I'd love to coach at UL one day. What better position for me than to go back to a place that gave this little kid an opportunity and allowed me to be me.

"Right now, I'm just trying to get my foot in the door."

And if previous history is any indication, Mason will make the most of it.

Athletic Network Footnote: Click here for Damon Mason's AN profile.

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