Mason Fine is a catch-and-release kind of guy.
“I’ve always been a hunter and a fisherman but recently, especially with this quarantine, I’ve been fishing a lot more than I typically have in the past,” said Fine in a pre-NFL Draft interview. “I usually bring in maybe five fish and one bigger one every time I go out. I catch and release. I take a cool photo with it and then I kiss it goodbye.”
Because for the 5-foot-11 North Texas quarterback, it’s never been about the trophies.
“You talked about all the records but the accomplishment I’m most proud of is being a three-time captain,” said the Peggs, Okla. native of his numerous school and conference accolades. “That just shows it wasn’t all about who I was as a football player but also as a person.”
Sure, he finished his career the all-time leading passer in Mean Green program history with 12,505 yards. And yes, he is first in passing touchdowns (93), passer efficiency (140.68), touchdowns responsible for (100) and is the record-holder in career completions (1,039) and career pass attempts (1,655). Plus, he has the most 300-yard passing games in program history with 18.
All those impressive statistics and still no NFL team came calling.
But Fine will be remembered as much more than a record-breaking QB in Denton, Texas. He is the guy who stuck around, the guy his teammates looked to for leadership both on the field and off, the guy who left his university better than he found it.
“When he first got here, he and that whole senior class – they all kind of had a chip on their shoulder,” said head strength and conditioning coach Zack Womack. “They wanted to come in and change the culture of this program. They wanted to win and they were willing to do whatever it took to get there. He and his teammates are a big part of that change in the culture here at our university.”
While Fine credits more than just the football staff for his success and his growth both as a person and a player, it’s his unusual bond with Womack that he emphasizes when talking about his time in Texas.
“Typically, a quarterback isn’t close to a head strength coach but me and him, we are tight,” said Fine. “He’s someone who truly helped me out at my highs and my lows. He’s the guy who pushed me to go out there and train with Drew Brees and learn all that I could.”
But in what fires was this unlikely friendship forged?
“I love the process,” explained Fine. “I love being a master of throwing the football and learning the offense and defense, but I also love the nutrition side of things as well as the exercises and the workouts. If you are just playing football for the games under the bright lights in front of people, you are going to have a really tough time having success in this sport.”
Womack recognized Fine’s student-of-the-game mentality immediately as the gym quickly became the quarterback’s second home.
“He was always hanging out in our weight room – he would come in and lift and run with the first group and then later on that evening he would back in there doing more,” remembered Womack. “We joked about how we should put this guy on payroll because he’s in this building more than anybody else.”
But dumbbells and deadlifts weren’t the only things that drew the two together.
“Our relationship was good because we were like-minded; we both grew up in small towns in Oklahoma and gravitated towards each other a little bit,” added Womack. “I’m from Davis, Okla. – it’s bigger than Peggs, for sure, but it’s still only about 2,500 people.”
The small-town quarterback’s love for all facets of the game is what catapulted him from 700-person Peggs into a Division 1 football program. Well that and his DIY workouts and unwavering work ethic.
“There weren’t a whole lot of people that would want to come play catch with me and throw a football every chance I wanted to growing up,” recalled Fine. “So, we had these big tractor tires that I would roll out on the 10-, 15- and 20-yard lines. And I only had like three footballs, so every three throws I would have to go get the balls and reset. It took me about 30 minutes to set up and about 30 minutes to get them back in.”
Clearly the high school version of Fine always found a way to get in reps. And that didn’t stop when he got to North Texas.
“Now he has an indoor facility and instead of tires, he has nets he can throw into and instead of three balls, he has a whole bag of them, but he still does the same stuff,” said Womack. “He will go for hours; I mean you have to lock him in that indoor facility and tell him to turn the lights out because he’s in there throwing balls all night.”
Two weeks ago, Fine watched 13 quarterbacks go in the 2020 NFL Draft and another 11 or so get picked up as undrafted free agents when it was all said and done. This was shocking to many, as betting sites had Fine slotted as a Day 3 selection. Yet Fine’s phone remained silent as teams likely weighed the pros and cons of picking up an undersized quarterback from a non-Power 5 school who put up hard-to-ignore numbers throughout his career.
But Fine is used to the doubt – he was born into it and thrives despite it or quite possibly because of it.
“People say ‘oh is the height an issue?’ and I say ‘well I’ve never played quarterback at 6-foot-2,’” Fine said with a smile. “I’ve never grown to 6-foot-3 and shrunk back down to 5-foot-10 so I can’t tell you how 6-foot-2 quarterbacks play and what limitations they have that I don’t have or that I do and they don’t.”
During the draft process, Fine remained hopeful that teams would judge him for his merit not his measurements. One NFL quarterback coach even told him that he doesn’t play like his height affects him and was curious if Fine saw his targets every single time.
“I told him that I may see a flash of a jersey or a hip but I know where he’s going to be – I’ve already calculated what the defense is running, I know that’s an open spot of grass for me and I’m going to throw it to that area,” assured Fine.
Fine sees the bigger picture, but what he needs is for someone else to see it too.
“I know there is a chip on his shoulder because he’s heard about his height his whole life, but no one has ever told him he’s not good enough,” maintained Womack. “He’s still waiting for an opportunity – that’s all he ever needs and that’s all he’s ever wanted.”
Fine may be a catch-and-release guy but when an NFL team does inevitably bite, he will be ready and waiting to reel this one in.
“I did not know that he was a catch and release guy,” admitted Womack. “But that just speaks to who he is – it doesn’t surprise me at all, that’s the sportsman in him. He does it for the enjoyment of it and the true sport of it. That mentality applies to every aspect of his life which is why him having an opportunity in the NFL or not doesn’t define who he is as a person. His attitude will drive his success in life.”
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.
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