As a junior last season, Georgia Tech guard Shaquille Mason played at an All-ACC level. In his first four games this season, he has considerably exceeded that standard.
I asked running back Synjyn Days if he had noticed how well Mason was playing and he responded with a laugh, as though I might have well asked if he’d noticed Waffle House serves waffles.
“Yes, sir, definitely,” he said. “The coaches point it out. If the players are pointing it out, you know the coaches are noticing.”
What Days said he has seen from Mason, probably the team's best offensive lineman since his sophomore year, was the consistency and degree with which he has been winning at the line of scrimmage.
“Last year, we were kind of surprised about some of the things he did, but now he’s being consistent with it,” Days said. “It’s the same thing (this year), but it’s still amazing, like, blowing guys totally off the ball.”
Offensive line coach Mike Sewak said that Mason is grading out probably 20 percent better than anyone else on the line. His footwork and leverage have consistently met Sewak's exacting standard. The Virginia Tech game, Sewak said, “was by far the best pad level games he’s had since he’s been here.”
Mason was credited with blocking 12 defenders to the ground, half of the offensive line’s total. As a for instance, on quarterback Justin Thomas' 32-yard run in the third quarter, Mason drove defensive tackle Nigel Williams eight or 10 feet down the line of scrimmage against the flow of the play, clearing room for Thomas to run downfield. (clip here)
Mason, who Tuesday was voted a team captain along with linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and quarterback Justin Thomas, attributed his play to focus and practice habits.
“Really, it goes to focusing more just nailing those things (down), just watching film, evaluating myself and just breaking everything down,” he said. “That was the main focus of my offseason, just evaluating myself and seeing what I can do to be better.”
For his play against Virginia Tech, when the Jackets beat the Hokies for the first time since 2009 and Mason was named the team’s offensive player of the week, Mason gave praise to scout-team defensive linemen Jabari Hunt-Days and Kenderius Whitehead. At the start of the week, Mason said he encouraged Hunt-Days and Whitehead to bring their best in practice, not always easy for players who know they have no chance of playing this season.
“I was like, This week’s a big week. Don’t take any plays off,” Mason said. “Just give us game looks every (practice).”
Mason said it was “the most intense week of practice that we’ve had since I’ve been here” and gave credit to Hunt-Days, who is on the scout team after being declared academically ineligible, and Whitehead, who is redshirting after transferring from Georgia Military College, for their work preparing him.
“They gave it their all and it showed,” Mason said.
I’ll have more about Mason and his play in a story for myajc and Saturday’s paper.