- By D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Back in March 2015, Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, fresh off a brief retirement, attended Georgia Tech’s Pro Day.
He was off to the side working with Shaq Mason snapping the ball as a center. The Patriots went on to draft Mason, as a center, in the fourth round (131st overall) of the 2015 NFL draft.
In his third season, Mason, who’s since moved to guard, along with center David Andrews, a former Georgia standout, is set to start against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I’m glad we got him,” Scarnecchia said. “I’m glad I was there that day. I think I was the only position line coach that was there that day.
“We drafted in the (fourth) round. When we drafted him, a lot of people thought we shouldn’t have drafted him. We don’t care about that. We got a good player.”
Andrews wasn’t drafted.
“(Patriots coach) Bill (Belichick) was there for his Pro Day, and he really liked the kid,” Scarnecchia said. “We all evaluated him, and we definitely thought he was a guy that we would want to bring in here.”
Andrews went on to make the team and cracked the starting lineup.
“When you scout, the greatest thing that you can say is, ‘I want this guy on our football team,’ ” Scarnecchia said. “Those were two guys that you could look at and say, ‘I really want these guys on our football team.’ Not only for the obvious traits that we like, they have to be smart, tough and athletic enough, but for all of those intrinsic things that they’ve got going for them. Leadership and toughness, all of those things, and they have them. That’s why they are playing here.”
Mason was a dynamic run blocker at Georgia Tech.
“He’s been able to learn how to pass block and see the game in a different perspective as the pro game is,” Scarnecchia said. “He’s done all of those things very well.”
While getting ready to play in his second Super Bowl, Mason reflected on his Pro Day. He had never played center in his life.
“I was just a kid out there trying to do anything to get a shot,” Mason said. “Whatever that shot was, I was going to take it and run with it.”
Under the guidance of Scarnecchia, who is widely considered the best offensive line coach in the league, Mason has blossomed.
“Really, just staying grounded, staying humble and working,” Mason said. “I just put my head down and kept working nonstop.”
Mason and Andrews have buried their college rivalry hatred for the betterment of their pro team.
“Yeah, that’s my guy,” said Mason, who contended that he never thought he could like a Bulldog. “We actually formed a bond before we got here at GATA training in Duluth. We actually started to form that bond there. That’s my ‘Bro’ now.”
Mason plans to be ready for Philadelphia’s vaunted defensive front, which includes tackles Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan.
“Sometimes you have to step back and realize this is the Super Bowl,” Mason said. “We are one of the last two teams playing. Then at that same time, you can’t make it too big. You still have to go to work and do what you’ve been doing all year.”
Mason and Andrews have a healthy dose of respect for Cox and Jernigan.
“They definitely are a challenge,” Mason said. “That’s a good (defensive) line. They are definitely deserve all of the recognition that they get. They play well week-in and week-out. We are definitely looking forward to going out and competing with those guys.”
Andrews said, “They are great players. They have been playing very well this year. They are going to be a big challenge.”
Andrews has grown into his position as the chief protector of New England quarterback Tom Brady.
He has started 41 of 44 games over the past three seasons.
“Tom does a great job and is a great teammate,” Andrews said.
Andrews humbly sat at his podium during the Opening Night ceremony. To his left was Brady and to his right was Belichick. It was a long way from the Wesleyan School and the state Class A title.
“I didn’t even notice that,” Andrews said. “They get a lot of attention.”
Andrews felt he could play in the NFL after his days at Georgia.
“I don’t think my confidence ever wavered,” Andrews said. “I was always confident that I could do this. I always wanted to do it. That’s just how this works. Every year they write the story of the undrafted guys who play in the Super Bowl. It doesn’t really bother me.”
He’s now a headliner for the undrafted players in the Super Bowl this time around.
“I get to play with a great group of guys,” Andrews said. “There are a lot of hard-working guys in there.”