Maybe, just maybe, his eyes got a little moist.
Maybe, just maybe, his smile was a shield against tears.
Nobody would have blamed Tre Mason — famous son of Park Vista High School — for crying about the fuss Cobra Nation made over him Friday night.
There was a video tribute, the presentation of a plaque and a ceremony marking the retirement of his No. 10 football jersey number to the gymnasium rafters. There were people here, there and everywhere wanting him to sign this, that and the other thing or just wanting to talk or take a picture of the running back who made all kinds of good at Auburn … and is leaving the university in forfeiture of his senior season to take on the NFL.
“It’s a blessing to be back here,” Mason said in a conference room outside the principal’s office after the halftime tribute during a Santaluces-Park Vista basketball game. “So many emotions are running through my body. The coaches shaped me into the grown man I am.”
He was a superstar with the Cobras in rushing for almost 7,000 yards and scoring 68 touchdowns in three seasons.
“That’s with defenses keying on him more and more as his career went on,” said Park Vista coach Brian Dodds, “because we were a power-I team. He was going to get the football, and every defense knew it.”
Dodds had heard stories of a “Superman” kid at the school before he saw Mason, and told his own story about Mason’s first agility drill in which the player jumps on and off a box.
“Tre jumped over the box,” Dodds said.
Mason and Auburn almost jumped to the college football national title last season. The Tigers went from 0-8 dregs of the Southeastern Conference during Mason’s sophomore year to the national championship game his junior year. Mason, down the stretch, hammered away at Alabama in an Iron Bowl upset victory and mauled Missouri in the SEC championship game before pounding on Florida State in a devastating loss for the big crown.
“I thought we had the game won when I scored late,” Mason said. “It didn’t work out.”
Mason’s 37-yard touchdown run gave Auburn a four-point lead with just more than a minute to play, but the Seminoles answered with a stunning touchdown drive for a 34-31 win.
“Crazy,” Mason said.
He had become a Heisman Trophy finalist along the way, which ain’t bad for someone deemed too small at 5-feet-10, 180 pounds coming out of high school.
Now, at 210 pounds, there is some concern he’s not big enough for the pro game, although Mason said advisers have told him it’s a “possibility” that he’ll be a first-round pick.
“It depends on what I do at the combine,” Mason said. “I hope I run a 4.3.”
That would alleviate some worries about size.
“Some team is going to get a running back who’ll give them a nice career,” Dodds said. “I don’t have any doubt about that.”
Mason doesn’t mind, and perhaps even appreciates, the naysayers.
“It fuels me,” he said. “If anyone doubts me, I try to prove them wrong that very second.”
It’ll take a lot longer than that, of course, if it happens at all. But fretting isn’t what this night was about.
“Without this school,” Mason said, “I wouldn’t be in the position I am.”
He was running late. The third quarter was well underway, and Mason wanted to get back to the gym to watch his brother, Chauncey, play for the Cobras. He walked through a crowded courtyard while talking with his father, Vincent, about the joy of it all.
A section of seats at mid-court had been marked off with blue stretch cloth for Mason and his family and friends. His mother, Tina, had “broken down” in tears during halftime, he said, and that “almost got to me.”
Maybe more than “almost.”
Park Vista won.
It was a perfect ending to a night when it felt so very good for Mason to be home again.