The Lassiter High School product has waited four years “to hopefully make an impression that lasts” after watching Aaron Murray become the Southeastern Conference’s career passing leader.
At Georgia Tech, coach Paul Johnson will replace starting quarterback Vad Lee, who left school earlier this year and transferred to James Madison.
Johnson will decide between redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas, who’s listed first on the depth chart, and No. 2 Tim Byerly, a redshirt junior.
Johnson and Georgia coach Mark Richt were the main attractions Tuesday at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, where the state’s football programs gather annually to discuss the coming season.
In two starts last year after Murray tore a knee ligament against Kentucky, Mason helped Georgia rally from a 20-0 deficit and win in double overtime at Georgia Tech. But against Nebraska four weeks later, some dropped balls in the red zone took the luster off his 320 yards passing as the Bulldogs lost 24-19 in the Gator Bowl.
Mason acknowledges that many Georgia fans question his ability, but he said he doesn’t pay much attention to critics. He plans to stay off social media accounts this year.
“It just helps me stay focused,” he said. “When you get (negative) stuff like that, it can be a little discouraging. You don’t realize how blunt people can be.”
Georgia, which went 8-5 last season and finished third in the SEC East, returns six starters on offense, including star tailback Todd Gurley, split end Michael Bennett and flanker Chris Conley.
The Bulldogs expect flanker Malcolm Mitchell, the team’s most talented receiver, to be cleared medically to practice soon. Mitchell tore a knee ligament in the season-opening loss at Clemson and hasn’t played since.
Backup tailback Keith Marshall is also returning from a knee injury. He was hurt in the narrow win at Tennessee, where split end Justin Scott-Wesley tore a knee ligament, too.
Scott-Wesley will miss at least one game because of a marijuana arrest last October, but Richt indicated the junior is on schedule in rehabbing his knee.
“I’m not a doctor or an athletic trainer,” Richt said, “but I don’t know if he’s quite as far along as some of the other guys — Malcolm Mitchell, Keith Marshall — I think he’s getting there.”
Johnson was surprised when Lee decided to transfer, but he said Georgia Tech will benefit from having a true competition at quarterback this summer.
Despite having a role in five of the game’s 13 fumbles in the Jackets’ rainy spring scrimmage, Byerly impressed Johnson with 101 yards rushing and 69 passing.
Byerly began his career at Middle Tennessee State after leading Chattahoochee to the Georgia Class AAAA state title and a 15-0 record in his senior year. He’s beginning his third season with the Jackets.
“He’s got toughness,” Johnson said. “He’s a good runner. He’s got good speed. I don’t know if he’s blazing, but he’s got good speed.”
Georgia Tech, which went 7-6 last year and tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division, returns five starters on offense with running back Zach Laskey as the top playmaker.
Thomas was held out of the spring game because of a shoulder injury, but Johnson said then that he could’ve played if it had been the regular season.
“He’s quick, fast and does have blazing speed,” Johnson said. “He’s probably got as quick a release as anybody (Johnson’s staff has) had at Georgia Tech throwing the ball. Strong arm. He’s not as tall, so we have to find ways that he can” find receivers.