Staff Photo: John Bohn Senior Domonique Mason is a leader of the Norcross football team. Mason, a former tight end, is now playing defensive end and is have a successful season.
NORCROSS --During the brutal heat of this past summer, Domonique Mason could have been anywhere else.
Hanging out with friends. Working out on his own. Being some place with air conditioning.
The Norcross senior never considered any other options, though. He was with his football teammates for their passing league games, rooting them even though his tight end role had been all but phased out of the Blue Devils' new spread offense.
The two-year starting tight end had been switched to a No. 1 defensive end role prior to spring practice, rendering his attendance to passing league activities unnecessary.
"(Mason) came to passing league all summer, knowing we weren't using a tight end, but he just came to support the guys, motivate them," Norcross quarterbacks coach Steve Sims said. "That's the kind of kid he is."
A Norcross resident since moving from New York as a 3-year-old, Mason takes his role in the community to heart. It includes being a good example at school --Norcross principal Jonathan Patterson chose Mason, who has a GPA above 3.0, to speak to the faculty for motivation prior to his junior year --and with his football team.
It's why the 6-foot, 220-pounder insisted on attending passing league games, even serving as a fill-in center at one point.
"I play a big part in leadership on the team, so I felt like if my presence was there, it would help," he said.
While his presence at passing league was nice, it's the mark Mason has made on Norcross' defense that has been the biggest boost.
The Blue Devils graduated nearly its entire front seven off last year's playoff team, including starting defensive ends Demetrius Alston and Silverberry Mouhon, both Cincinnati signees. A third defensive end, O'Shea Bridges, also graduated. He signed with Middle Tennessee.
Their loss left a big void and the Norcross coaches immediately went to offense to find their replacement. Their offensive plans went to a more wide-open attack, designed to take advantage of a large pack of talented receivers, allowing them to move a two-year starting tight end to defense.
It's paid off well so far for the Blue Devils, undefeated heading into Friday's showdown with fellow unbeaten North Gwinnett.
"Last year being behind Demetrius, Silver and them, they'd always tell me, next year is going to be your time," Mason said. "I'm just filling those big shoes. The defense, being so young, I have to be a leader and step it up. And me being a rookie on defense, it's new to me. But I'm just trying to bring the defense together and I'm loving it right now. I've got a lot of brothers behind me and if I'm not making the play, they're making the play. And I'm happy for them."
Mason's major contributions the past few seasons mostly involved work at tight end. He caught two passes, including a touchdown, in his first-ever varsity game as a freshman, a narrow loss to Camden County in the Georgia Dome for the Corky Kell Classic. He really wasn't a frequent target in the passing game in either of those seasons, but his run-blocking was praised by Norcross head coach Keith Maloof and his staff.
Those same traits help him at defensive end.
"He hardly ever gets driven off the ball," Maloof said. "He can rush the quarterback and also can play the run as good as anybody. And he's really smart. He can pick up formations and pick up tendencies. The other night, he knocked down two of (Mill Creek quarterback John) Russ' passes when he tried to hit guys on short little passes in the slot. Usually that happens with a 6-5 guy, but this is happening with a 6-foot guy. That tells me he's learning what the offense is doing and it's helping him play better."
Mason is third on the Blue Devils with 44 tackles, creating havoc with his propensity for creating negative offensive plays. He has team highs of 14 tackles for losses, four sacks and five quarterback hurries at the season's midway point.
In the big win two weeks ago over Mill Creek, he had 13 tackles (three for losses), a sack and two tipped passes.
He doesn't have a long list of Division I offers like his predecessors, but he's playing up to their standards.
"He's playing as good or better than those guys did, production-wise," Maloof said. "Is he going to play SEC or ACC? I think he can. But are people going to give him a shot? Because of his size, I don't know. But he's playing really as good or better than the guys we had last year."
The coach expects the defensive standout to rack up some college offers, but he knows that Mason isn't too concerned with recruiting at the moment. He's more worried about his senior season and the Blue Devils' high goals, which began looking more realistic during those summer passing league games he frequented.
"This team has high potential," Mason said. "We can go far if we stay together. If we focus on us, listen to the coaches and execute, we can go a long way."