Ben Mason wouldn’t change much about his football career at Newtown, except for the way it ended.
Hobbled by a knee injury, Mason could only watch from the sideline as Shelton earned a 55-21 victory in the Class LL state quarterfinals on November 29. The loss ended the Nighthawks’ season, and Mason’s high school career.
“That was the only game I missed my entire career,” Mason said. “It’s not the way I planned to end it but, unfortunately, that’s what had to happen.”
Mason tore the meniscus in his right knee at some point during the season and aggravated it vs. Masuk in Newtown’s regular season finale. Mason was in uniform, and took part in the coin toss, but did not play a down against Shelton. He had surgery the next day.
Mason attempted to practice leading up to the Shelton game but soon realized he would be unable to play.
“He wanted to play,” former Newtown coach Steve George said. “It was tough for him to watch teammates out there struggling through whole game. It was hard for him.”
The injury was one of the few setbacks for Mason while at Newtown. Mason, the 2016 Register State Player of the Year, had a decorated career, one in which he will likely be remembered as the most ferocious linebackers in state history.
Mason had an auspicious debut during his freshman season, when he tallied 67 tackles, a sack and two pass deflections.
“He was physically able as a 14-year old freshman,” said George, who resigned following the season. “You don’t see athletes like him come around too often. We were good then, it’s not like we were hurting at linebacker. He just beat kids out because he was better. He was a special player.”
When not playing linebacker, Mason lined up at fullback and instantly became a human wrecking ball. But, while teams had to adjust to the physically imposing Mason running at them, Mason had to also make adjustments to his game.
“One thing we had to deal with early was, diving low at him was the only way many kids could bring him down,” George said. “Not many kids in the state could bring him down with a normal tackle. So, that’s why you saw he spend a lot of the season hurdling players. That was a learning curve we had to teach him.”
As a sophomore, Mason made 13 tackles and two sacks in a 14-8 win over Ansonia on Oct. 18, 2014. The loss snapped the Chargers’ 48-game winning streak, one victory shy of tying a state record.
During Mason’s career, Newtown went to the state playoffs four times and won three SWC championships. Mason will certainly be tough to replace.
“You always miss a kid like that,” George said. “He’s irreplaceable. You can’t replace kids like that. Other kids will come and be great here, I’m sure, but there won’t be another Ben.”
While Mason was as good as they come on the field, he was also a standout student and well-respected member of the Newtown community.
“He’s consistently an honor roll student,” George said. “I mean, he’s going to Michigan, which is a prestigious institution. He volunteers in many of our youth programs, he’s involved in a lot of things around school, he’s in a lot of clubs. He’s a lot more than the 48 minutes you get when he’s on the football field. He’s a top-notch kid.”
George was, perhaps, most impressed by Mason’s character throughout Mason’s career.
“I would say one of his top characteristics was leading by example,” George said. “There wasn’t a day he wasn’t in the weight room. He was always first guy in film room. It says a lot when your best player believes in what you’re doing and is that motivated.
“Considering all the attention he got, it could have turned things south pretty quickly. But, he kept working hard. He was a good example for teammates. You’re not going to find one bad thing to say about him.”
Mason was a three-time Register All-State selection. As a senior, he made 63 tackles, an average of 6.3 per game, had three tackles for a loss and a sack while being named the Gatorade state player of the year and winning the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s Connecticut player of the year on Saturday.
Mason returned two interceptions for touchdowns this year, bringing his career total to five, which tied a state record also set by three-time Register All-Staters Bobby Valentine (1967) and Phil Pope of Simsbury (1969).
Mason also rushed 80 times for 719 yards, (9.0 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns this season and finished with 1,041 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns.
“I guess it has set in,” Mason said about his career accomplishments. “All those honors are nice and everything but, right now, I’m focused on the next chapter of my career.”
Mason left for Michigan on Dec. 31 and officially started classes there on Jan. 4. Mason was also able to begin training and said the knee is recovering well.
“I’m so excited,” Mason said. “I’m really looking forward to what this next chapter brings.”
Sean Patrick Bowley contributed to this story.