BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Tre Mason doesn’t write his goals down.
Of course, that’s not a problem when those ambitions are committed to memory. And no one can say he’s not aiming high — the junior wants to rush for a minimum of 1,500 yards this season. Only two players in Auburn history have ever hit that plateau: Bo Jackson ran for a school-record 1,786 yards in 1985, while Rudi Johnson tallied 1,567 in 2000.
Consider Jackson’s number squarely in his sights.
“That’s one of my goals, to break the rushing record here,” he said. “I want to be the first to do that. ”
Tim Horton doesn’t mind that Mason states his objectives so publicly. The Tigers’ running backs coach said he never gives it a second thought.
His focus is more on his players’ gradual progress than their long-term aspirations, anyway.
“We’re more day-to-day. ‘Let’s have a good practice, let’s have a good day and a good meeting this afternoon’ and things of that nature,” he said. “You know, you do want them to have goals. I think goals are important, and hey, let’s shoot for the stars.”
Can Mason reach that record-setting level, though?
“Oh, I think so, and there are so many factors involved with that,” Horton said. “But he’s obviously a very good running back and he’s going to have to be very productive for us to have a good season. I think he’s got a lot of ability.”
One thing Mason will have to prove is that he’s durable enough to reach his target. Not that the Palm Beach, Fla., native isn’t used to being overlooked due to his compact stature.
“People (always) told me I wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t fast enough maybe,” he said. “I take all of that as motivation to get bigger, stronger and faster and try to prove everyone wrong.”
As much as he craves becoming the Tigers’ workhorse back, Mason knows he has to work within the parameters of what head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee choose.
“You can’t really go against what a coach is doing,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s his call. When you do get that opportunity you got to show out and do what you’re supposed to do with the ball.”
Mason wasn’t able to do that much earlier this year, as he was sidelined for a majority of spring camp with an ankle injury. That opened the door for Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne, who ended the spring in a three-way logjam at the top of the running back depth chart alongside Mason.
Even though he wasn’t able to contribute much on the field, Artis-Payne said Mason helped him get acclimated to Auburn after transferring from Hancock Community College in California.
“I (learned) some things from Tre as far as how to handle different situations in a game or practice,” he said. “The biggest thing I took away from Tre is preparation. I’ve never played at Division I, so I didn’t know (what to do) in that aspect.”
Ironically, the things he taught Artis-Payne could end up being the reason he fails to reach his lofty intentions this year.
“I think the one thing we do have is that we’ve got more than just one running back,” Horton said. “I feel pretty confident about four or five of these guys, so I’d like to think we could get some carries from everybody.”
Artis-Payne doesn’t think spreading the wealth will slow Mason down, though.
“I think Tre’s going to shock a lot of people,” he said. “You know, me and Tre, we talk a lot, and he’s really determined to show us what he can do, especially on a bigger stage, because I don’t think we’re going to go 3-9 again.”
So go ahead and doubt Mason and his planned assault on the school’s rushing record. While you’re at it, he said, doubt the Tigers, too.
The underdog role is one Mason has gotten used to by now.
“We will shine,” he said. “Coach Malzahn said ‘It’s a new day,’ and it will be a new day August 31. We’ll show it.”