With the 2018 season just five days away, we wanted to share five thoughts that should make football in Texas great this season. Today we take a look at the North Texas' record setting quarterback.
With 67 seconds left, down four, and 98 yards between his offense and a win, the player used to facing doubters was in his natural element. What transpired was roughly 3 minutes of football that no Mean Green fan will soon forget. UTSA fans won't either.
Mason Fine threw for a state record 13,086 yards as a prep player in Locust Grove, Oklahoma. He threw for a state record 166 touchdowns. He was twice named the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year. He maintained a 4.0 grade point average and ranked number one in his class academically.
But he was too damn short. Too thin. He played in a classification that was too small.
When North Texas expressed interest in him in January of 2016, the Mean Green were one of a couple of non-Division II schools to give him an offer. Fine signed and the rest is becoming history right before our eyes. In short, Mason Fine got his chance.
Once camp opened in the fall of 2016, murmurings started to trickle out of Denton about this undersized kid from podunk Oklahoma who was rising up the depth charts. He might even make backup. His competition was an Alabama transfer who's recruiting experience was quite different than Fine's.
Alec Morris looked like a quarterback. He was 6-4. Weighed 230 pounds. He played for Texas high school monolith Allen. Alabama got onto Morris before his senior year and he committed. The Montgomery Advertiser noted that while Morris didn't have a "bluechip reputation" he had all the physical tools "he's tall, has a big arm, and a high football IQ."
Three years later, Morris transferred back home to the Mean Green and the presumed trigger man for Seth Littrell's new Air-Raid offense.
The scrawny kid from Locust Grove kept climbing the depth chart. By the first game of the season Fine was the backup. Conventional wisdome was that the Mean Green should pray nothing happens to Morris.
After Morris thew three interceptions in the opener, Littrell tabbed Fine for the job the next week against Bethune Cookman, the first freshman to start for North Texas in a decade. Mason Fine had his chance. Littrell saw something in his freshman, "nothing rattles him, he's one of those kids that only comes around so often." Littrell's belief in Fine was so solid that he even threw his freshman quarterback into the Swamp against Florida and 90,000 rabid Gator fans.
Fine didn't play well, but he didn't blink either. He didn't get much help. But even as Florida sacked him seven times, the most for a Gator team since 1999, he kept getting up. Then he got better. His high point came at UTSA, completing 71% of his passes for 257 yards. Against a nine-win Louisiana Tech team Fine completed 67% of his passes. He threw for 300 yards for the first time against an eight win Middle Tennessee team. He helped North Texas to an overtime win over Rice. Then in week 1o, at Western Kentucky, an injury ended his season.
Entering 2017 the jury was still out on the undersized sophomore. After promising starts at SMU and Iowa, Fine and the Mean Green arrived in a game at CUSA Western Division challenger Southern Miss. Fine lit the Golden Eagles up, throwing for 366 yards and showcasing a trait that North Texas' didn't possess in 2016, the deep ball.
Fine was not a dink and dunker, underneath thrower, he had the arm talent and accuracy to take the top off the defense. He was also unflappable.
Against Old Dominion he helped the Mean Green score ten unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a come from behind win. Against Army he led North Texas into field goal range with five seconds remaining for the winning kick. He guided the Mean Green on another come from behind win at Louisiana Tech. If you made the mistake of giving him time, if you gave him a chance, he'd find a way to beat you.
Back to UTSA. With 67 seconds and 98 yards separating the Mean Green from a win, Fine had run for his life for most of the evening as future first round pick Marcus Davenport made a living in North Texas' backfield. None of that punishment mattered as Fine guided the Mean Green down the field.
Then came the play that defined the Mean Green season. 3rd and 10, seventeen second to play, facing a zero blitz into his face, the gym rat diagnosed the proper throw and made it, side armed and blind to the exact spot for a streaking Rico Bussey Jr. It was his one chance and it was a slim one, but he took it. Ballgame.
Now the North Texas record book will chronicle the exploits of Mason Fine. Single season passing yards leader, single season touchdowns leader. He threw for 4,059 yards. A top 100 season in NCAA history. He has a chance to build on that success. Don't bet against him.
He's remade his body in two offseasons in Denton. He's bigger, faster, and in his third year in the system. For the first time, writers are starting to acknowledge that the undersized kid from the small town in Oklahoma has those pesky physical tools that everyone drools over at Elite 11 combines. He's got the big arm, accuracy, mobility, and the high football IQ.
All he needed was a chance.