Created on Thursday, 29 November 2012 03:35 Written by Dustin Gabler / Senior Staff Writer
The fates on the football field have been against Pitt linebacker Dan Mason. No other Panther has gone through the injuries that he has — all of them have been serious — and no other Panther has surmounted injuries of this magnitude so well.
The latest setback occurred in October when Mason suffered a lacerated liver in Pitt’s 44-17 victory over Temple, causing the Panthers’ linebacker’s up-and-down career to take another dip.
The laceration was preceded by his more well-known injury.
In the third game of his sophomore year, Mason suffered a catastrophic blow to his right knee that doctors initially said would prevent him from ever playing football again. His knee ligaments were torn, his kneecap was dislocated and his nerves were severely damaged.
“The [knee] injury in and of itself is a big problem,” said Dr. Aaron Mares, the Pitt football team’s associate physician. “To come back and play at the level he was playing at is unheard of.”
After the 2010 injury, the doctors were contemplating whether Mason would walk again, let alone play football.
“Right when I was lying on the field, I knew I was going to be coming back,” Mason said. “I never count myself out of anything. I just kept working. Obviously, I had my hard days, but I just kept working.”
Mason sat out for the remainder of 2010 and the entirety of the 2011 season, but in 2012 he began the season as a backup to Shane Gordon.
Needless to say, Mason wasn’t used to serving as a backup after being an All-State player in high school and seeing time on the field every game of his freshman career at Pitt, during which he recorded 26 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
His work ethic befits the underdog.
“I just took it as I got to keep working,” Mason said. “That’s how I see things. When you’re second team, you got to work and earn being a starter.”
While Mason was out, the linebacker relied on his teammates to keep his motivation up.
“I found my teammates were there to be supportive,” Mason said. “Through every step coming back from that injury, I always had a teammate telling me ‘keep your head up.’”
His efforts didn’t end with the trainers or on the practice field. Because of his lack of mobility, Mason spent hours watching games and learning more about the mental aspect of football.
“I definitely just watched so much more football,” Mason said. “Even games on TV, just to see different people and how they approach the game. I listened to Ray Lewis talk. I listened and watched it all and soaked it all in. I was thirsty for knowledge.”
When you type Dan Mason into Google, the results are predominantly about that knee injury. It’s what defines the linebacker, and it has taught him a lot about himself.
“I learned too much from this injury, as a man and as a player,” Mason said. “I went through it for a reason, and it happened for a reason.”
What also happened for a reason was how well Mason played when he returned to the Pitt starting lineup this year in the game against Buffalo — the reason being the fervor he applied to his recovery. With everyone telling him it would be nearly impossible to ever run again, Mason chose to block out the discouraging possibility and, in turn, accomplished something unheard of by competing again.
After overcoming such an unusual and disturbing injury, Mason incurred one equally as uncommon: The linebacker suffered a lacerated liver while making what appeared to be a routine tackle.
“It looks benign,” Mares said. “It looks like a thousand tackles you see every day. Unfortunately, it was just a wrong place, wrong mechanism. Everything had to line up for it to occur, and it did.”
Mares explained that organ injuries aren’t common in football. On top of that, injuries to the liver are even more rare than injuries to other organs, such as the kidneys and spleen.
“In a liver laceration, you usually don’t see that unless it’s a high-velocity event — that’s more of a motor vehicle accident,” Mares said.
Paul Chryst, head coach of the Pitt football team, was initially worried about his linebacker, but he believes Mason should be able to return to practice in the spring.
“Obviously, he’s down because this will keep him out for the rest of the year, but big picture: He’s doing well right now,” Chryst said the week after Mason’s injury. “Right now [if he can practice in the spring is] the least of my concerns. We want to make sure he’s all right.”
Chryst said that doctors anticipate he’ll be back at that time. Unfortunately, there isn’t much Mason can do to heal the organ between now and the spring.
There are no ways to speed up the rehab process for a lacerated liver, so all he can do is rest.
“Because it’s not a high-velocity type of injury, the likelihood of it being a catastrophe or having severe complications should be on the lower end,” Mares said. “In medicine, there’s always a chance. Typically, he should be able to recover.”
When he recovers, Mason will presumably have two more years to compete with the Panthers. While he will be a redshirt senior next season, all previous examples show that the NCAA will grant Mason a medical hardship waiver, often referred to as a medical redshirt, if he petitions for one.
According to NCAA rules, medical hardship waivers are given to players who haven’t participated in more than two contests of competition or 20 percent of the team’s completed games.
Mason was injured in the third game of his sophomore season, and the rule isn’t hard-and-fast, so the best way to interpret it is by looking at previous cases. Pitt’s current medical redshirt, senior guard Chris Jacobson, was awarded a sixth year in 2012 after suffering an injury during the third game of his redshirt senior year.
With more than likely two years left to play, there’s a lot of time between now and the end of Mason’s college career. His only current goal for the future is to get better.
“I just want to keep growing every day and every week, as a player and as a man,” Mason said. “I just try to correct my mistakes in practice every day and try to get better.”
The odds are against him, and have been ever since his knee injury, but if anyone can recover from two major injuries and play in college yet again, it just might be Mason.
“For him to come back at the [Football Bowl Subdivision] level, start and do well, bodes [well for] his chances,” Mares said.