SILER CITY — Eddie Mason was more of a bookworm. But there he was, on the practice field at Jordan-Matthews in the summer of 1986, about to take his first handoff as a high school running …
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SILER CITY — Eddie Mason was more of a bookworm. But there he was, on the practice field at Jordan-Matthews in the summer of 1986, about to take his first handoff as a high school running back.
“And I got my bell rung,” Mason said. “I mean, seriously. I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want no parts of this.’”
Dazed from the hit, he looked up and locked eyes with Phil Senter, the Jets’ head coach.
Just days earlier, Mason, a rising freshman, had been riding his bike around town when Senter saw him and convinced him to try out for the football team. Mason’s older brother, Bucky, was a star for Jordan-Matthews. But his younger brother had but a year of youth ball experience.
On his first carry, it showed. And Mason felt ready to quit, right then and there, until Senter approached.
“Eddie, listen,” Senter said. “When you get knocked down, get back up. Get back up.’”
“He gave me the next play, a toss to the right, and I took it to the house” Mason recalled. “It was one of those situations where I didn’t look back.”
Get knocked down. Get back up. Mason found that to be a common theme as his football career progressed from Jordan-Matthews to the University of North Carolina to the NFL, where he played five years and 80 games as a linebacker, primarily on special teams.
He wouldn’t change his path, though, because it brought him to where he is today: happily married with three children, strong in his Christian faith and the owner of MASE Training, a gym in northern Virginia that works out professionals, high schoolers and everyone in between.
“You know the saying,” he said. “You may not win the battle, but you can always win the war if you just keep fighting.”
A Siler City native, Mason grew up baling hay, chopping wood and tilling gardens for his grandfather, Walter Cheek, whom he called “his greatest motivation” to this day.
The chores were a pain then, but Mason later realized they helped him get a boost on strength training: his arms, legs and back got an unintentional workout almost daily.
Although he swears he could have been a better running back, and he also gave defensive back a try, Mason found his niche playing linebacker at Jordan-Matthews. At a lean yet stocky 6 feet and 220 pounds, he earned a reputation for his big hits and a slew of all-conference and all-state honors.
He also caught the eye of UNC coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush. So Mason moved a county north in 1990 to play for the Tar Heels. He enjoyed football, but he didn’t see it as the end goal — as a sociology major, he strived to serve as a Navy SEAL and later work for the CIA or FBI.
“I had no desire to go play pro,” Mason said. “That was not on my radar.”
He kept that plan in mind through his time at UNC, as he redshirted, spent two years as a reserve and started as a junior and senior in a hybrid linebacker/safety position for the Tar Heels. But his final game for UNC — the 1994 Sun Bowl — gave him a timely boost.
In a 35-31 loss to Texas, Mason finished with eight tackles, an interception and two pass break-ups. Four months later, the Jets drafted him 178th overall in the 1995 NFL Draft.
“God did that, man,” Mason said. “Honestly. How do you go from being a special teams guy to having a pretty good senior campaign and then get drafted in the sixth round? That’s stuff out of a movie.”
He logged 25 tackles as a rookie, all on kickoff and punt coverage, and was named the Jets’ special teams MVP. But a season-ending injury in 1996 training camp sent him on a three-year drought — he was teaching fourth graders at Windsor Park Elementary in Charlotte when the Jacksonville Jaguars called in 1998.
Mason spent his last four years, all productive, with the Washington football team, formerly known as the Redskins, in an area he now calls home. He retired in 2003 and established MASE Training in Sterling, Virginia, the same year.
Workdays begin at 6 a.m. — Mason’s always up by 5 a.m., if not earlier — and before coronavirus-induced restrictions, he and his staff would work out 20 to 25 people an hour. A guided tour, conducted by Mason over Zoom, reveals saunas and squat racks and high-speed treadmills and weights galore.
“This right here is where I’d put you through the ringer,” he said with a laugh, turning his iPhone camera to 50 yards’ worth of indoor turf tucked into one of the corners.
MASE Training, which Mason runs with Sonya, his wife of 23 years, is his way to give back to the same the football community that invested so much — in good times and bad, as he’s quick to note.
Senter, his coach at Jordan-Matthews, didn’t give up on Mason through his various high school slip-ups. Brown, his coach at UNC who recently described Mason as “like an adopted son,” taught him etiquette and relationship tips in the 1990s he still uses today.
And so many others, he said, have helped along the way — like former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who spoke with Mason during “a very bad time in my life” and later endorsed Mason’s 2015 book, “Training for the Tough Game of Life.”
“As much as so many coaches and people have poured into me, I would be far remiss if I didn’t pour into that same community,” Mason said. “You feel not an obligation but a calling to do it.”