MACON | Adversaries on the practice field at least for one heated day in the spring of 2013, quarterback Hutson Mason and inside linebacker Amarlo Herrara are certainly allies heading into the summer of 2014.
They arrived at the Peach State Pigskin Preview on Tuesday as logical Georgia representatives for the media event at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Both will be counted on to step up their leadership heading into their senior seasons.
They were neatly dressed in jacket and tie and reported no incidents between them on the drive from Athens.
The story of then backup Mason and defensive starter Herrera having a scuffle on the practice field got attention back in November before Mason made his first start as a Bulldog in place of the injured Aaron Murray.
It showed Mason‚Äôs fiery nature after a hit he didn‚Äôt like from Herrera.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs water under the bridge,‚Äù Herrera said laughing. ‚ÄúI really forgot about that. I love Hutson. He‚Äôs got a big heart and I like when that happened that he stepped up and he didn‚Äôt back down, he didn‚Äôt shy away from what I was doing.‚Äù
While most of the Georgia players were away from campus in May, Mason and Herrera were among those who stuck around.
Mason took nearly the entire month of May off from throwing to let his arm rest.
Mason grew a beard that he said looked a bit like Atlanta Brave Evan Gattis but trimmed it some for his appearance this week before the cameras.
The 6-foot-2 Herrera dropped about 10 pounds since the end of spring practice to get down to 236.
‚ÄúJust working hard in a sweatshirt and eating better,‚Äù he said after cutting down on carbohydrates.
Summer workouts begin Monday, but there will be some voluntary ones this week.
Mason will organize the on-field work for the offense, Richt said. Mason said already was organizing throwing sessions prior to spring practice.
‚ÄúThe guys really respect him and trust him,‚Äù coach Mark Richt said. ‚ÄúHe doesn‚Äôt have an issue of gaining everybody‚Äôs trust. That‚Äôs already there.‚Äù
Herrera said just because he‚Äôs a senior doesn‚Äôt give him the right to lead.
‚ÄúDoing the right things, being there all the time, being on time and just being a vocal person and somebody the rest of the team looks up to makes you a leader,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm just trying to do that this year because it‚Äôs my last year and that‚Äôs what kind of lacked last year and I need to step up doing those things.‚Äù
Mason is replacing a player in Murray he says was ‚Äúthe face of the franchise,‚Äù which made him somewhat timid to be the front-and-center guy until Georgia returned from the Gator Bowl.
That‚Äôs when he felt like it became his team.
He‚Äôll lead the offensive players in twice a week throwing and then step it up to three to four times a week in July.
The fifth-year senior is not trying to not think about his one and only season as Georgia‚Äôs starting quarterback, but he is getting ahead in his classwork now so he can set it up to take one class one day a week and focus more on football during the season.
‚ÄúI try to keep my head down to the grind and pound the pavement,‚Äù he said, ‚Äúand not really worry about what‚Äôs going on outside the Butts-Mehre building. When you think about it, it can put a lot of pressure on you. You‚Äôve got big shoes to fill.‚Äù
He said he prefers to, in his words, hide himself in a cave.
‚ÄúMaybe that cave is the film room and just go to work,‚Äù said Mason, who plans to break down season opening opponent Clemson next week.
The backup quarterback is often a fan favorite. The starter feels the heat when things don‚Äôt go right.
Mason saw it happen.
‚ÄúBeing here behind Aaron, everybody for three or four years was, ‚ÄòAaron can‚Äôt win the big game,‚Äô‚Äù Mason said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs crazy what people would say because it was like it was all Aaron‚Äôs fault, like Aaron was playing the whole team. As a quarterback, you‚Äôre going to get more blame for losses and more praise for the wins and you know that‚Äôs just how it goes.‚Äù
Mason, who went 1-1 as a starter after stepping in to complete Georgia‚Äôs victory against Kentucky, said he plans to delete his social media accounts prior to the season.
‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt get on Twitter anymore without somebody tweeting at you and being like, ‚ÄòYou‚Äôre terrible,‚Äô or, ‚ÄòYou suck,‚Äô‚Äù Mason said.
His coach certainly has confidence in him.
‚ÄúI think he‚Äôs going to do very well,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs going to be surrounded by some really good skill players, experienced talented guys. I think the line if we stay healthy will be able to provide the space and the time for him to operate and us to run the ball well.‚Äù
Richt said he expects the defense and special teams to be better, which will benefit Mason.
‚ÄúI think he‚Äôs going to be the beneficiary of a lot of things coming together,‚Äù Richt said, ‚Äúso hopefully that‚Äôll help him succeed.‚Äù