Utah Utes football: Offensive lineman Miles Mason only needed a week to earn starting role
Steve C Wilson, Steve C Wilson
SALT LAKE CITY — A little over a week after arriving to play for the University of Utah football team, Miles Mason was in the starting lineup for the opener against Montana State.
A week? Don't players need at least a month of training camp to get ready for the season?
Apparently not, at least in the case of Utah's starting left guard, who wowed his coaches and teammates with his ability to quickly pick up the offense and ease effortlessly into a starting role.
Mason not only started the first game, he's started all three Ute games and is one of three offensive linemen, along with Sam Brenner and Tevita Stevens, to play every snap this year.
Coach Kyle Whittingham calls it "unheard of" for a player to come and play so quickly. Offensive line coach Tim Davis calls it "crazy" and half-jokingly says, "maybe camp is overrated."
Mason has been the most pleasant surprise for the Utes so far this year, bolstering a thin offensive line with his solid play.
He arrived in Utah from Southern California in late August after completing some junior college credits to become eligible. He was happy to get to Utah after originally signing with USC last winter, but he really didn't know how much he would play.
"I was expecting I wouldn't play at all this year," Mason said. "Once I got here, I got a crash course and I guess the coaches liked what they saw."
The Ute O-line was hit by injuries in camp and Mason replaced John Cullen at the left tackle spot for the opener against Montana State after Cullen was sidelined with a concussion.
Mason did so well that the following week, the Ute coaches couldn't keep him off the field when the Utes played at USC and Mason started at the left guard position. He played again against BYU and has now entrenched himself as the Utes' left guard.
"That's an anomaly to come in that late in the process and end up starting at left tackle in your first ballgame," says Whitingham. "That's not easy. You don't ever expect something like that to happen, so that was a big plus for us — a bonus."
Whittingham says he knew Mason was a good player, but also knows it takes more than pure talent to get on the field.
"It's one thing to have the ability, it's another thing to be able to digest all the assignments and alignments and techniques," Whittingham said. "He's a natural. He picked up the offense quickly and stepped right in."
So what makes the 6-foot-4, 318-pound Mason such a good offensive lineman?
Why, his basketball skills, of course.
Seriously, Mason was a basketball player growing up and didn't even play football until his senior year of high school when he got "heavier" after a late growth spurt. He played basketball for four years at Santa Monica High but only played football for just one year.
"After I realized basketball wasn't going to get me anywhere, I decided to try football," he says.
However, because of his limited experience, he didn't get any offers out of high school and instead went to work for FedEx for a couple of years.
When he got bored with working, he decided to try out for El Camino Junior College, where the coaches were impressed after a tryout. He played some as a freshman and was slated to be the starting right guard as a sophomore, but was moved to left tackle after the starter there was injured.
He flourished enough that USC offered a scholarship, but rescinded it when Mason was not eligible to play by spring ball.
Coach Davis believes Mason's development was accelerated because of the coaching he received at El Camino from longtime line coach Gene Engle.
"He comes from a program where the offensive line coach is phenomenal and has been coaching for 30 years," Davis said. "He's a hard-line guy and the guys you get out of his program are great."
Davis also believes Mason's basketball background has given him "great feet," which is a plus for an offensive lineman.
"Miles has done a great job," says Davis. "He's real good about paying attention. He wants to be a good offensive lineman. Hopefully we can keep teaching him and keep him going."
As for basketball, Mason says he still enjoys playing in the offseason and will continue to play hoops for fun.
So what is the best part of his game?
"My low-post game," he says with a smile. "Oh yeah, my post-up move."
For now, Mason will continue pushing people around on the football field rather than on the basketball court.
"He's got a real bright future and we're lucky to have him," says Davis.
Miles Mason file
Weight: 318 pounds
Hometown: Los Angeles
Year in school: Junior
Position: Offensive guard
Late start: Didn't join Utes until final week of fall camp
2011 season: Has started all three games and earned a 79 percent grade on the O-line
Notable: Played basketball for 4 years in high school, but didn't play football until his senior year
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