NEWTOWN >> When it came time to decide where he was going to spend his college football career, Newtown’s Ben Mason wasn’t going to play around.
But when he was ready to announce his decision, however, then — then — it was time to throw his fans, and the scores of others at over a dozen other colleges, for a loop.
Newtown’s two-time All-State linebacker was quite the showman Tuesday evening. He tried on several hats and visors as he sat at front of the Sandy Hook Cover Two sports bar in Newtown. He playfully tossed hats from Boston College, Cal and Michigan’s aside amid gasps and cheers from the packed house.
Then, wryly, he reached back and picked up the Michigan visor again. He put it on.
Just kidding everyone, Mason punched his fist in the air, signifying that he will indeed be a Michigan man. “You’ve got to have a little fun with this,” he said later.
Mason, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker and two-time New Haven Register All-State selection, made his decision to commit to play for coach Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines Tuesday evening, potentially making him the fourth Connecticut player — all-time — to earn a roster spot at the storied school. Commitments are non-binding until an athlete signs a National Letter of Intent on the first Wednesday in February.
“I know I was thinking about making my decision after the season, but this school just felt right,” Mason said.
Mason had his pick of the litter. Despite saying last November that he’d likely pick after his senior year at Newtown was complete, nineteen schools sought his services. It was only after a trip to Ann Arbor three weeks ago that Mason was sold.
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He said the players, the thought of playing at storied Michigan Stadium, and the program’s coaches played a big factor in his decision.
“I mean, (Coach Jim) Harbaugh, he’s just an unbelievable guy. I’ve never met anyone with as much personality as him. …And the players. In one example I was in a little meeting with an academic advisor and this kid named Jake Butt, he could have been picked in the draft this year, he came in and gave me his cell phone number. I mean, those are the kind of kids I’m going to be dealing with at Michigan.
“You talk about the facilities? The Big House? It’s the the Big House. One hundred-and-ten thousand people will be coming to every single game to watch you play. That’s unreal. Those people love football. It’s a great academic school and I’m really happy for this opportunity.”
But, above all, Mason was especially impressed with Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown and wanted to play for him.
Brown, who’d also coached at Yale and UConn, recruited Mason while he coached at Boston College last year. When Brown got the job at Michigan, Mason said he immediately reached out to him in hopes of following.
“I really, really like his coaching style,” Mason said of Brown. “He’s very passionate, the way he coaches. I think he can make me a very good player. He’s going to make me the best player I can be.”
Rare is the sight of Connecticut natives playing at Michigan. There have only been three Connecticut lettermen in the 136 years of the football program. Two of them came from Darien: Fritz Seyferth and Todd Mossa.
Seyferth made the team as a walk-on in 1969, Bo Schembechler’s first season as head coach, and went on to earn a scholarship as one of the Big Ten’s most prolific scorers in the early 1970s. He eventually became the program’s recruiting director in the 1980s and, ultimately, the No. 2 man in the Michigan Athletic department under then-AD Thomas Goss.
Darien’s Todd Mossa, a two-time New Haven Register All-State offensive lineman who led the Blue Wave to their 1996 state championship, played at Michigan from 1997-2000 and was a member of the Wolverine’s last national championship team in 1997.
After that, the only other Connecticut native to letter at Michigan was New London’s Dick Weske, an offensive tackle who started for Fielding H. Yost’s teams between 1915 and 1917.
Mason has been a star for the Nighthawks from the moment he stepped onto the Blue and Gold Stadium Field as a freshman. He amassed 290 tackles (190 solo), made 10 1/2 sacks, 20 tackles for a loss and five interceptions (three for touchdowns as a junior) in 37 games.
As a junior last year, he consistently filled a need at running back and had 784 all-purpose yards and scored 15 touchdowns (six rushing, nine receiving) while leading Newtown to a 11-1 record and a berth in the Class LL semifinals. Newtown has been to the playoffs all three seasons.
Mason has been rated a three-star recruit by all of the major sites, including Scout.com and Rivals.com. He had announced offers (scholarship and otherwise) from 19 schools: Temple, Boston College, Duke, UConn, Cal, Syracuse, Rutgers, Army, UMass, Kansas, Yale, Navy, Dartmouth, Harvard, Michigan, Wisconsin, Columbia, Pittsburgh and Penn.
“We’re so proud of him here because of what he’s accomplished and what he’s going to accomplish this year,” Newtown coach Steve George said. “But to be able to go watch him play at the next level at Michigan is going to be fun for us.”