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Freshman wows Pitt with formidable skills

If Adam Gunn wasn't impressed with Dan Mason before he bench-pressed 395 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds prior to Pitt's training camp, the sixth-year senior middle linebacker is now.

After watching the freshman from Penn Hills play with the presence of a veteran, Gunn didn't dismiss the possibility that he might end up playing next to Mason sometime this season instead of starting ahead of him.

"He's a fast guy, he's very physical and he has leadership characteristics that are ready to break through. When he gets the opportunity, I'm sure he'll shine," Gunn said. "It's my job to take him under my wing and watch film with him and make sure he understands exactly what's going on out there, make sure he's in his playbook. It's the whole mental aspect he's missing right now. Once he gets that, he's going to be a great player for us."

How great?

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has called Mason the "real deal," and compared his traits favorably with three former Pitt linebackers playing in the NFL.

"He's got (Scott) McKillop's playmaking ability, H.B. Blades' seriousness and Clint Session's athletic ability," Wannstedt said. "He's like a combination of all those guys."

Not to put any pressure on Mason, considering that McKillop led the nation in tackles in 2007 and joined Blades as recipient of Big East defensive player of the year and first-team All-America honors and that Session starts for the Indianapolis Colts.

The 6-foot, 231-pounder wanted to prove that he wasn't just a workout warrior, so he treated the first day of practice in full pads as if it were an audition for a segment of ESPN's "Jacked Up." Soon, he was running with the second-team defense and looking like a star of the future - if not sooner.

"You see guys who can bench press a house but they can't do a lick on the field," Mason said. "I just wanted to go out there and prove that I have the skills, as well as the strength, and I can put them all together and be a good player."

Mason is one of three true freshmen expected to play when Pitt hosts Youngstown State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field - tailbacks Dion Lewis and Ray Graham are the others -- and will start on the kickoff coverage and punt-return units.

Mason might actually prefer if the Panthers lost the coin toss.

"Being on kickoff, I'm just going to go out there and try to bust somebody's head and set the tone for the game," Mason said. "I know the defense is going to handle it and stop them, so I won't mind."

Wannstedt was so impressed with Mason's tenacity that the Pitt coach tells a story already bordering on the legendary. When ordered by strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris to perform up-downs, an exercise that involves dropping from standing position into a push-up repeatedly, Wannstedt recalled that Mason "attacked those 25 up-downs like it was the opposing ball-carrier."

"I'd never seen a guy be that aggressive doing up-downs," Wannstedt said. "It's just his nature. You never have to talk him about giving effort. You're never going to have to talk to him about being ready to go."

Additional Information:

The Mason file

Name : Dan Mason

Height, weight : 6-foot, 231 pounds

Class : Freshman

Position : Middle linebacker

Notable : Three-year starter at Penn Hills was an Associated Press Class AAAA first-team all-state selection as a senior, when he recorded 100-plus tackles, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. ... Rated nation's No. 8 middle linebacker by Scout.com. ... His brother, Terry McCall, played running back and defensive back at Robert Morris from 1996-99.

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