Pitt linebacker Dan Mason always knew he would get back onto the football field.
Truth be told, coach Paul Chryst never seemed as sure. Whenever he was asked about Mason's progress during fall camp, he essentially said he was going to wait and see and he had no timetable for when Mason would return.
The season opener against Youngstown State came and went. No Mason.
Game 2 against Cincinnati came and went. No Mason.
Virginia Tech came and went. Still no Mason.
But Mason never got discouraged. He knew it was only a matter of time, that he had to let the soreness in his knee subside enough before coaches would even think about playing him.
Finally, Mason got the call. He took the field for the first time since a devastating knee injury in 2010 -- an injury that doctors predicted would end his career.
"My teammates were more excited for me than I was at the time," Mason said in a phone interview with ESPN.com. "They’ve seen my struggle, they’ve seen me working hard to get back, they’ve seen me go through all types of things, working on the scout team to get the feeling back, even in spring ball seeing me come back all the way up to now, they’ve seen me the whole way. They got a feel for how much I’ve struggled and they were excited for me."
Then came the "cherry on top" of the comeback story. Mason got the starting nod last week against Buffalo, replacing the injured Shane Gordon. It was his first start in two years, and he ended up tying his career-high with 11 tackles, while adding one sack. Mason could start again Saturday against Temple if Gordon cannot work his way back from a sprained ankle.
"I felt good, but I still made some mistakes," Mason said. "They’re correctable. I feel I can do a lot better considering the circumstances. I made some mistakes in my first start back, but I know I can grow and be better."
Mason has already come further than many ever predicted, despite shredding knee ligaments, dislocating his kneecap and sustaining nerve damage. He was and up-and-coming middle linebacker before he got hurt against Miami in 2010, but he refuses to compare the 2012 Dan Mason to the Dan Mason of 2010.
"When I’m in the game, I don’t think about any of that," Mason said. "I’ve got what I’ve got. I’ve got the ability right now and I'm going for it. Whether I’m faster or slower, I can’t tell. I’m just trying to make plays as hard as I can."
Chryst has only been around Mason for a short period of time, but it is hard not to be inspired by the wonderful comeback story.
"I've got a great appreciation for what he's done this last year," Chryst said. "I thought it was important or big for him a couple weeks ago when he played, and now last week to get a chance to start and to be a significant contributor to a win, it's just a heckuva story."