- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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As a freshman, Auburn’s Tre Mason made his name as a kick returner.
He led the SEC a year ago in kickoff returns and averaged 26.4 yards per return. He took one back 97 yards for a touchdown against Utah State.
It was during the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia last season that Mason got his most work as a running back. Filling in for the suspended Michael Dyer, Mason rushed for 64 yards on nine carries and scored on a 22-yard touchdown run.
Despite Auburn’s struggles on offense this season, the 5 foot 10, 196-pound Mason has blossomed into the Tigers’ go-to back. He’s been one of the few bright spots on an Auburn offense that ranks 13thin the SEC in both total offense and scoring offense.
Mason has rushed for 706 yards on 127 carries and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He’s coming off a career-best 152-yard performance last week in the 42-7 win over New Mexico State.
We had a chance to catch up with Mason earlier this week for a Q&A:
You’re starting to get more carries now -- 50 in your last three games. Are you hitting your stride as a running back?
Tre Mason: I just love the ball in my hands. I want to be the one to make plays for my team and to be productive any time they call on me.
A few weeks ago, you called for the ball more, particularly in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. How did that play with your coaches and teammates?
TM: I just want to be the guy they can trust to make plays when we have to have them. I want the ball in those situations, not because of anything for selfish reasons, but because I think I can help my team win. However many times I get it, I’m just going to keep pushing and keep doing my part to help this team finish out the season strong.
How hard has it been to focus with all the rumblings about Gene Chizik’s job security and the struggles this team has endured this season?
TM: What I’ve tried to do is lock in on what’s important and get in the film room. You can’t be distracted by outside talk. The most important thing is that we stay together, stay motivated and keep believing.
Even though you’re a sophomore, do you see yourself as one of the leaders on this team?
TM: I just try to do my job and feel like everybody will follow. There are a lot of guys on this team with big hearts, and we’re going to make sure that everybody stays motivated and stays focused.
After five straight losses, what did the New Mexico State win do for this team heading into the Georgia game?
TM: We needed some momentum going into this game. That’s the biggest thing. When you keep losing, it rubs off. Winning is contagious. You want that feeling over and over again, and I think that will play a significant role this week. We want to keep that feeling.
What does freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace bring to the offense?
TM: He provides another running threat. Teams have to respect his legs, and that opens up things for other players. He’s been a leader for us even though he’s a freshman, and he’s great in the huddle. He’s a team guy and is just going to continue making plays.
How hard has this season been on everybody?
TM: I just know everybody is still fighting. It’s tough to know that a bowl game is out of reach, but there are other things to play for. We’re playing for each other, our families. No one is going to quit. We’re all in.
Is there enough talent on this team that it should be winning?
TM: I feel like we’re very talented and have as much talent as you need to win in this league. It could be a lot different season if we’d won some of the close games and not made as many mistakes, but we definitely have the talent.
What would be your message to the fans?
TM: That we’re going through some growing pains and still developing with a new scheme on offense and new coaches on offense and defense. I’d tell everybody to stick in there with us. We’re going to get more comfortable with everything, and we’re going to continue to ball.
Is it possible for the players to block out all the negativity out there right now surrounding the program?
TM: I know a lot of people pay attention to the outside talk. I don’t pay attention to it because all it’s going to do is bring you down. I’ve never let what people say bring me down. I keep my mom in my heart, my dad in my heart, all the struggles we’ve gone through as a family in my heart, and I just keep pushing and keep playing hard. That’s all you can do.
12hDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman