Originally from Indianapolis, Assistant Coach Brian Mason is settling into Cincinnati nicely. He’s so comfortable, in fact, he’s declared the Queen City to be tops among cities he’s lived. Based on his many promotions to new opportunities along the professional coaching road, that’s high praise.
Mason attended Denison University before beginning his coaching career at Bluffton University, his first stop. That was followed by stops at Butler University, Kent State (where he met Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman), Purdue, and Ohio State. An eye for young talent, Luke Fickell wisely invited Coach Mason to join him at the University of Cincinnati.
He spent last season as the Director of Recruitment, presiding over the most prestigious and highly ranked class of recruits to set foot on UC’s campus. The 2018 signing class was ranked 46th by Rivals and 247. Recently promoted, Mason begins this season as the newly-minted Special Teams Coach.
Discussing the overall transition from year one to year two under Coach Fickell’s leadership, he identified one key change for fans to look for — an open playbook on both sides of the ball. Because players are now accustomed to (a) the high expectations culture (read: “every player must give year-round effort”), and (b) the basic schemes on offense and defense, coaches can layer in more complexity and creativity.
Preparing for UCLA and this season, Mason said the three key inflection points for this team’s success were…
1) Unit Strength — Fickell and Co. want to see more cohesive position units. The coaches want to see the players sacrificing for each other on and off the field. While it might sound like a mere talking point, I think a lot of a team’s success rises and falls on the culture directed by the coaches and executed by the players.
2) Relentless Effort — As familiarity with the offensive and defensive schemes grows, the expectation is that everyone will play faster. And relentlessly.
3) Development Metrics — The coaches are measuring how guys develop as football players by evaluating progress against metrics and benchmarks. Coaches are tracking these metrics both on the field and in the weight room.
The special teams unit Mason takes over is young. Punter James Smith enters the season as the most well-known commodity among specialists. Smith started as a true freshman last season, transitioning to UC (and the States) after having been a professional rugby player in Australia before the 2017 season. The kicking game is rounded out by Ryan Jones, who was recently awarded a scholarship, and freshman Cole Smith from nearby Middletown. Jones will kick the ball off, and Smith will kick field goals.
Special teams are frequently overlooked, but I’m convinced it’ll play a big role in how this 2018 Bearcats team competes. The 2017 squad struggled to put points on the board, so winning the field position battle will be critical.
By Brian Fox