Lassiter senior Hutson Mason will be enrolled at the University of Georgia in less than six weeks. For the Bulldogs that may be just in the nick of time.
Thanks to the disciplinary dismissal of redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Mason has gone in a half-year from late-offer prospect to third-string quarterback for the Bulldogs. Only two players — redshirt junior Logan Gray and redshirt freshman Aaron Murray — now stand above him on Georgia’s QB depth chart.
A February signee, Mason will officially join the quarterback competition when he moves to Athens to start summer classes on May 31.
The whole thing has made for a bittersweet weekend of conflicting emotions for Mason, who calls Mettenberger his closest friend on the team. Mettenberger was his host on his official visit to Georgia and Mason stayed with him almost every time he came to Athens since then, which was often. They talked and texted all the time.
“We were really close,” Mason said on Sunday. “I feel bad for Zach. The way I look at it is Zach made a bad decision. He’s not perfect; we all make bad decisions. Zach just made a mistake and unfortunately the mistake he made is one that got him kicked off. It’s unbelievable. But you just have to take it and make the best of it.
“Once you get to college it’s kind of a job. Every single player in college football is out for themselves. So now it just opens up a door for me. It opens up a door for Aaron. It opens up a door for Logan.”
Mettenberger, a graduate of Oconee County High, was already suspended for the opening game of next season for an alcohol-related arrest in Valdosta over spring break. But he continued to practice with the team and had the most impressive performance of the three quarterbacks in the G-Day game, completing six of 10 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns with the No. 2 offense.
“Zach is going to play football, there’s no question about that,” said Mason, who has not tried to contact his friend since the news of his dismissal broke on Sunday. “He’ll have a chance to go play at a big school. He’s too good of a quarterback to go play I-AA or something like that. He’ll go to some big-time school, sit out a year and he’ll play again. It’s not all over for him. He’s still got a bright future.”
Mason’s prospects definitely have improved. Though he has always talked about competing for playing time right away at Georgia, Mason was generally considered a strong candidate to redshirt as a freshman. Now as the No. 3 guy he’ll have to be counted on to play.
The Bulldogs did not sign any other quarterbacks in their last class. They are expected to add at least two walk-on quarterbacks, including Wayne County’s Parker Welch, who will room with Mason.
“My work ethic isn’t going to change,” Mason said. “I wasn’t worried about the depth chart before Zach got kicked off. I’m just worried about busting my butt every day and trying to get better. I’m trying to learn the playbook, trying to get stronger.”
The 6-foot-3 Mason is up to 195 pounds thanks to an intense training regimen that at one time included boxing. But it hasn’t all been physical work.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo sent Mason a playbook shortly after he signed. Since then Mason has studied it diligently with his father and Dave Archer, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback and Mason’s part-time instructor.
Once he gets to Athens, Mason said he will work closely with Johnathan Batson, a former Georgia walkon who completed his eligibility but remains in school.
“I’ll be responsible from Day One for knowing protections, formations, shifts and motions and stuff like that,” Mason said. “It’ll probably be pretty up-tempo, pretty intense and pretty quick.”
Mason believes he’s up for the challenge. The AJC Class AAAAA Player of the Year set single-season state records for passing yards (4,560) and touchdown passes (54) at Lassiter. He’s understandably confident in his abilities.
“This is what you live for really,” he said. “This is why I play football. I have absolutely all the confidence in the world in myself. I hope I do get called upon, I hope my number does get called. I’m a competitor and I know for a fact I’ll be ready when my number does get called.
“Words can’t describe the opportunity I have. If it comes as a true freshman, stepping out there in front of 92,000, I would’ve never dreamed that. But I’ll be ready for it.”
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