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.
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason (14) scrambles out of the pocket during the second half of the NCAA college football game between Georgia and Kentucky in Athens, Ga., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Georgia won 59-17. (AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto)
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’s fiery nature after a hit he didn’t like from Herrera.
“That’s water under the bridge,” Herrera said laughing. “I really forgot about that. I love Hutson. He’s got a big heart and I like when that happened that he stepped up and he didn’t back down, he didn’t shy away from what I was doing.”
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.
“Just working hard in a sweatshirt and eating better,” 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 and said he already was organizing throwing sessions prior to spring practice.
“The guys really respect him and trust him,” coach Mark Richt said. “He doesn’t have an issue of gaining everybody’s trust. That’s already there.”
Herrera said just because he’s a senior doesn’t give him the right to lead.
“Doing 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,” he said. “I’m just trying to do that this year because it’s my last year and that’s what kind of lacked last year and I need to step up doing those things.”
Mason is replacing a player in Murray he says was “the face of the franchise,” which made him somewhat timid to be the front-and-center guy until Georgia returned from the Gator Bowl.
That’s when he felt like it became his team.
He’ll 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 trying to not think about his one and only season as Georgia’s 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.
“I try to keep my head down to the grind and pound the pavement,” he said, “and not really worry about what’s going on outside the Butts-Mehre building. When you think about it, it can put a lot of pressure on you. You’ve got big shoes to fill.”
He said he prefers to, in his words, hide himself in a cave.
“Maybe that cave is the film room and just go to work,” 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’t go right.
Mason saw it happen.
“Being here behind Aaron, everybody for three or four years was, ‘Aaron can’t win the big game,’” Mason said. “It’s crazy what people would say because it was like it was all Aaron’s fault, like Aaron was playing the whole team. As a quarterback, you’re going to get more blame for losses and more praise for the wins and you know that’s just how it goes.”
Mason, who went 1-1 as a starter after stepping in to complete Georgia’s victory against Kentucky, said he plans to delete his social media accounts prior to the season.
“You can’t get on Twitter anymore without somebody tweeting at you and being like, ‘You’re terrible,’ or, ‘You suck,’” Mason said.
His coach certainly has confidence in him.
“I think he’s going to do very well,” Richt said. “He’s 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.”
Richt said he expects the defense and special teams to be better, which will benefit Mason.
“I think he’s going to be the beneficiary of a lot of things coming together,” Richt said, “so hopefully that’ll help him succeed.”