Finally back on the field, Pitt's Mason isn't satisfied
Dan Mason listened to the question but responded with a quizzical look, as if thinking, “Why would you ask me that?”
The query centered on any soreness Mason might have felt after he did something many medical professionals thought impossible: He played football on his severely injured right knee.
Finally, Mason served up the answer with defiant pride.
“No soreness at all,” he said. “I feel 100 percent.”
Mason, a redshirt junior from Penn Hills, took a memorable step in his recovery Saturday, entering Pitt's victory against Gardner-Webb in the fourth quarter.
“It felt good,” he said. “It felt real good.”
The game was Mason's first since he suffered the injury — as Pitt's top middle linebacker — on Sept. 23, 2010, at Heinz Field. He was injured while in third-down pass coverage, stopping Miami's LaRon Byrd short of a first down.
Mason's right leg stuck in the turf, and he suffered a dislocated knee, tears to the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments and damage to the peroneal nerve. Pitt trainer Rob Blanc said it was one of the worst injuries he has seen in 25 years at the school.
“I was worried that he was never going to walk again,” Blanc said.
Mason has done more than that — much of it in the weight room when no one was watching. Blanc said Mason never complained during long hours of rehabilitation.
“I'm happy for him,” coach Paul Chryst said. “He's a good story.”
Mason has been practicing nearly every day, even while falling to third on the depth chart behind starter Shane Gordon and Joe Trebitz.
“They got two good linebackers in there. I just have to outwork them,” said Mason, who started five games as a freshman and sophomore in 2009 and '10 before getting hurt. “They are doing their job. I have to do mine.”
A four-star recruit rated the No. 8 high school middle linebacker of 2009 by Scout.com, Mason said merely playing a few snaps in a blowout is not enough.
“It was an accomplishment. It was a step,” he said. “But it's not my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is to be out there doing what I used to do: starting and playing a full game. I'm not giving up this fight.”
Mason said he has received plenty of support from teammates, especially when his return looked improbable.
“There have been days I was down on myself, and they told me to keep my head up, keep working,” Mason said.
When Mason's name finally was called, his friends celebrated with him.
Said Gordon: “I think I was more excited about (his return) than he was.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.