After completing a record-breaking junior season at Auburn and deciding to turn pro, running back Tre Mason heard from one of the all-time greats at the position: Marshall Faulk.
“He texted me and wished me luck,” Mason said. “It was an honor to receive a text from him, and also a blessing.”
Little did Mason know at the time that he would be following in Faulk’s footsteps as a St. Louis Ram, an organization with a great recent tradition at running back — from Faulk, to Steven Jackson, to Jerome Bettis, to Eric Dickerson.
“They’ve had great running backs come through these doors,” Mason said. “I’m here to just, God willing, keep the legacy on.”
And maybe break a couple of Faulk’s records along the way, right?
“No, I can’t say that right now,” Mason said, chuckling. “Who knows? This is a new level, and I’m here to do my job, and I’m gonna do my best and give my all.”
Who knows, indeed. It’s not like breaking records of legendary running backs is anything new to Mason, the Rams’ third-round selection last Friday. With a huge “assist” from Mizzou — which yielded 304 yards rushing and four touchdowns to Mason in the SEC championship game — Mason broke the great Bo Jackson’s single-season rushing record at Auburn.
Bo knows rushing yards — so does Tre.
After 195 yards and a touchdown in Auburn’s 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS title game, Mason finished the season with 1,816 yards.
“Bo is actually like an uncle to me,” Mason said. “He’s pretty much coached me through the time I was there at Auburn on how to carry myself as what they say is an ‘Auburn man.’”
As things turned out, those yards and carries against Florida State proved to be Mason’s last as a college player. After that game, he decided to forego his final season in college and turn pro.
“I felt it was the right time,” Mason said. “God has a plan. And I just felt like I was ready to challenge myself at the next level. After breaking Bo’s records, I felt like it was time to go.
“Now it’s time for me to produce. And it’s gonna be a competition and may the best man win. But I’m here for competition, and that’s what Coach (Jeff Fisher) brought me in to do.”
Even with Thursday’s release of Daryl Richardson, the backfield remains crowded at Rams Park. Zac Stacy, once an SEC rival at Vanderbilt, remains the starter after an impressive rookie season in which he fell just short of 1,000 yards rushing (973) in basically 12 games. (Stacy had just one carry for four yards over the first four games of 2013, and was a pre-game inactive for two of those four contests.)
“I respect his style of play,” Mason said of Stacy. “He’s a good player, that’s why he made it to the National Football League. I played against him my sophomore year, and he took over the game when we played him.”
Stacy rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown in Vandy’s 17-13 victory in that 2012 contest, becoming the school’s career rushing leader in the process.
On the night the Rams drafted Mason, Fisher said he would be a change-of-pace back — in other words, as a complementary back behind Stacy. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that pecking order is forever, and returning backs Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead will try to work their way into the mix as well.
Mason, 5-8, 207, walks into a situation where he has several familiar faces, starting with the head coach. Fisher’s son, Trent, was a backup safety at Auburn, which meant Fisher spent time around the program whenever he could, including the 2011 season when he was out of football.
“Because I also went to school with his son, it makes me feel like I’m getting coached by a family member,” Mason said. “A family member that I knew before I even got to this level.”
Trent and Tre were good friends in college, and worked together a lot.
“Trent and I always talked about one day I would play for the Rams, and he’d always joked around like that,” Mason said.
And here he is. That familiarity with Fisher, and vice versa, helps explains why the Rams were able to feel comfortable drafting Mason without the benefit of a “top-30” visit or private workout.
“We approached Tre Mason no different than any other player,” Fisher said. “We did our homework. Now, we didn’t do a visit. We didn’t need to do the visit, nor did we need to do the workout, but the scouts approached him as if it was anybody else. So we felt like we knew everything we needed to know about the kid.”
But there’s even more of a support group. General manager Les Snead is an “Auburn man,” and so are Mason’s Rams teammates Emory Blake, Daren Bates, and newly-drafted offensive lineman Greg Robinson.
Blake, a wide receiver, was on the practice squad the entire 2013 season. Bates, a linebacker, was one of the Rams’ top special teams players.
Robinson, of course, was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. After opening holes for Mason at Auburn, he’s expected to do more of the same in the pros.
“Me and Greg, we’re a dynamic duo,” Mason said. “You’ve seen a duo of a lineman and running back, but Greg is my brother. We know each other’s tendencies and techniques and how we play. So it will be great to continue on with Greg.”