We've been tracking the Dan Mason stuff for a while. Little was always leaking out, so it was hard to follow. After some light optimism (really, more wishful thinking) last spring that he could return, that was pushed back by the fall. Then last week, word was starting to come out that he was gearing up to play.
Through all of it, the fact remained: it would be a long road back. Dan Mason shouldn't be wearing football pads and heading out to the practice fields for spring camp. At least, that's what the doctors told him.
Doctors initially told Mason it was highly doubtful he would return to play football. Mason refused to listen.
He underwent five operations and spent countless hours doing rehab, working on flexibility in his knee, cutting, strengthening and generating nerve function again. He was able to run at full speed eight months after the surgery and was able to return to the practice field last season.
But his participation was limited while he worked to regain his nerve function and he never played in a game
The fact that Mason is where he is today - Pitt's first-team middle linebacker almost halfway through spring camp - is a miracle. When Mason made that play against Miami in September of 2010, he not only dislocated his knee cap, but also tore ligaments and had nerve damage. His football career was almost certainly over. Heck, he may walk with a limp.
But here he is, on the practice field at the South Side complex. Sure, his knee isn't 100%, but that's what nerve damage will do to a person. He's ready, though, to return to the team and be a player on it.
Mason is back in a Panthers uniform this spring. His smile seems to be a little bit wider every time he takes the field for practice. Not only is he back on the field, but he also is the starting middle linebacker.
"I feel awesome," Mason said, with a big smile after practice Thursday. "I'm out here moving around, I feel about 90 percent. I don't feel like my old self yet, but I am getting closer. But the knee is healed. I have been doing everything everybody else had been doing since last May so [the doctors] said go ahead [and return to full-contact drills] and, if it feels like it is hurting, just stop.
His leadership and determination can only help Pitt as they prepare for the 2012 season, likely their final in the Big East. Pitt already lost two of their starting linebackers in Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts. With Mason hopefully returning to the field, that makes the job of replacing them that much easier. Future players will be able to look at his road back to playing and know the drive, determination, and love for the game it takes to be a football player for Pitt. It won't only help on the field as it should definitely inspire everyone on the team to continue to give their all everyday.
His story will definitely be one to continue to watch as Pitt goes through the rest of spring drills and into the offseason. Regardless of whether Mason actually steps onto the field this season, his determination and belief got him to this point. And it will continue to lead him back to the field:
"I mean, I couldn't stop; rehabbing and everything, I couldn't stop," Mason said. "God put something in me, man...I just, I couldn't. I had to keep going. I had to try."