ATHENS, Ga. — Hutson Mason finally has the job he wanted all along.
He’s the big man on the Georgia campus, the guy who’s getting hit up for a picture or an autograph just about everywhere he goes.
It’s all very flattering — especially after waiting four long years to become the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback — but Mason isn’t ready to call it the best part of his new role.
That, he hopes, will come on his way out the door.
“I think the best part for me will be seeing it all pay off in wins, and hopefully a championship,” he said, pausing to consider his words. “I don’t think I know the answer to that yet, because I don’t really see it being how much attention I can get, how much free stuff I can get. For me, where I’m going to see the reward is just winning ballgames and just leaving a legacy as a winner, as a guy who didn’t have a lot of opportunities, but that one opportunity he made the most of it. That’s something to be proud of.”
When No. 12 Georgia opens the season next week with a crucial game against No. 16 Clemson, all eyes will be on the fifth-year senior who patiently waited his turn far longer than most of his teammates would’ve put up with.
“He’s probably had some pretty dark days,” receiver Chris Conley said. “But it speaks volumes about his character that he stuck it out and is still here.”
Mason arrived on campus in 2010, right when a redshirt freshman named Aaron Murray was taking over as Georgia’s No. 1 quarterback.
Murray, of course, went on to break most of the Southeastern Conference passing records. Unlike many college stars, he also used all four years of eligibility.
For Mason, who at one time considered transferring, that left only one season to show what he can do.
“A lot of people get a lot of shots,” he said. “I was never one of those guys.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt knows what it’s like to spend most of your career watching from the bench. He was a quarterback who signed with Miami at the same time as future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
“If you live through it, you can empathize with it — especially the backup quarterback position. You’re one play from starting. You also may be sitting all year,” Richt said. “I talked to Hutson a lot about that, how important it was to continue to prepare and know that you are a very vital part of the team. But not many people really understand the mindset and sacrifice it takes to be that No. 2 QB.”
Actually, there’s someone who understands almost exactly what Mason has gone through.
D.J. Shockley was a highly recruited player who surely could’ve started at many places for most of his college career. But he wanted to play at Georgia and would up behind David Greene, not climbing to the top of the depth chart until his senior season.
It all paid off when Shockley guided the Bulldogs past LSU in the SEC Championship Game in 2005, his lone season as the starter.
“You’ve got to look in the mirror and say, ‘Is this what I want from my life?’ ” Shockley said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “You can’t regret it. You can’t worry about what-ifs. You’ve got to make your decision, go with it, and make the most of it.”
Not surprisingly, Mason and Shockley have struck up quite a rapport. They talk or text a couple of times a week. Of all the former Georgia quarterbacks, there’s no one Mason relies on more — not even his four-year teammate, Murray — for counsel and consolation.
“When you look at all the quarterbacks Georgia’s had, it’s the same bond, the same brotherhood,” Shockley said. “But for me and Hutson, our situations are so parallel to each other, it’s a different type of bond.”
Speaking from experience, the former Georgia quarterback cautioned Mason not to put too much pressure on himself, to realize there’s no way he can cram everything that could’ve happened over the course of a career into one season.
“I biggest thing I did mentally was I told myself, ‘I don’t have time to worry about myself individually. There’s 80 or 90 other guys depending on me to do my part,’ ” Shockley recalled. “That’s what I told Hutson. You can’t worry about excelling on every single drive, every single play. Just go play.”
In other words, cherish the ride.
“Being the quarterback at the University of Georgia is a huge thing,” Shockley said. “You’ve got to enjoy it, man. Just enjoy it.”