How Record-Setting QB with Video Game Numbers Finally Landed FBS Offer

Damon Sayles@@DamonSaylesNational Recruiting AnalystJanuary 27, 2016

With more than 13,000 passing yards and 166 touchdowns in his high school career, Locust Grove quarterback Mason Fine landed his first FBS offer and verbally committed to North Texas on Monday. Despite being listed at 5'11", 170 pounds, Fine is a two-time Gatorade Oklahoma Football Player of the Year.
With more than 13,000 passing yards and 166 touchdowns in his high school career, Locust Grove quarterback Mason Fine landed his first FBS offer and verbally committed to North Texas on Monday. Despite being listed at 5'11", 170 pounds, Fine is a two-time Gatorade Oklahoma Football Player of the Year.Credit: 247Sports.com

Writer's note: We were ready to ask how someone with Mason Fine's resume could still be without an FBS scholarship offer. North Texas, however, answered the call before national signing day.

Metaphorically speaking, Locust Grove, Oklahoma's Mason Fine could be the proverbial subject of every popular, feel-good movie. His resume on and off the football field makes him the quintessential protagonist.

Every good film, however, needs a storyline and a plot, and every protagonist needs a nemesis. For Fine, until late Monday, that antagonist was FBS programs. And for as long as he's been a quarterback, his size—or lack thereof—has been one of the biggest obstacles in fulfilling his dream.

Monday night, none of that mattered anymore. Fine, a high school quarterback who posted ridiculous career numbers—more than 13,000 passing yards—verbally committed to the one FBS team willing to take a chance on him: North Texas. He will play roughly four hours from home for new North Texas head coach Seth Littrell and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.

"This has been a childhood dream of mine for forever," said Fine, who is listed at 5'11" and 170 pounds. "It's something I've been working my butt off for, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to show the people that I can play D-I football, no matter how big I am.

"I want to prove to people I can be just as successful in college as I was in high school. I'm setting more goals now; I can never be satisfied."

Rated a 2-star quarterback, Fine heard the stories throughout his career: Many college coaches have their ideas about the look of a prototype quarterback, and Fine, at first glance, simply didn't meet the criteria.

Never mind the fact that he ended his high school career as a two-time Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year—the only two-time winner of the award in state football history. And forget that he set Oklahoma high school career records for passing yards (13,084) and touchdown tosses (166). The fact remains that when coaches see him, "quarterback" isn't the first thing that comes to mind.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated," Fine said of the recruiting process before he had committed to North Texas. "I mean, I have my days where I think about it and get upset. It's something where it's every kid's dream to play for a big university. You want to be the guy and have all of the opportunities to lead your team."

So for everything Fine's done on the field—for the state records he set and for helping to turn Locust Grove High School into an Oklahoma power—he needed nearly the entire stretch of the recruiting process to earn his first FBS offer. He had a handful of FCS and Division II offers, but he, like many other athletes, has dreams of playing on the biggest stage in college football.

"Coach Littrell and Coach Harrell...out of all these coaches, they had faith in me to play at the next level," Fine said. "For them to take that shot on me, I'm forever in their debt. I'm going to continue working hard for them and for the University of North Texas."

A winner—size notwithstanding

As the quarterback at Locust Grove, a small school of roughly 500 students in northeast Oklahoma, Fine set multiple state records—and last lost a regular-season game as a freshman.

Fine has all the tools to be a successful college quarterback: a strong throwing arm, powerful legs, quick feet and all kinds of awareness and pocket presence. He's been clocked at 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

"His arm strength has really set him apart," said Jacob Unruh, a sportswriter who covered Fine for the Oklahoman. "He can make nearly every throw colleges want, which is a big reason why he's been such a star at the Class 3A level.

"His arm is the thing opposing coaches love and fear. They love to watch it from afar, but when it's their turn to play him, it's no longer enjoyable trying to contain him, because he can make any defense look bad with his strength and accuracy."

Physically, however, Fine is who he is, and that is someone built more like a slot receiver or cornerback than an aspiring college quarterback. To his credit, Fine is blatantly honest about his actual height and weight: He's 5'10 ¾" and weighs 167 pounds.

Take away the stature and you're left with a player who lost a mere eight games in four years at Locust Grove—and five of those came when he was a freshman.

"He's done everything he possibly could do to catch the eye of somebody," Dale Fine said prior to his son's receiving an offer from North Texas. "His mother and I tell him, 'You've just got to be patient. You don't need 30 offers; you can only go to one school.'

"If he could get that one coach to take a chance on him, that's all he wants. That one coach will get five years of the best Mason's got."

North Texas is getting not only a wildly successful quarterback but a senior class valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA as well. Fine is also in his fourth year as class president and has been active with both the school's National Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes programs.

Mason Fine led Locust Grove to a 37-3 record his last three years of high school.
Mason Fine led Locust Grove to a 37-3 record his last three years of high school.Credit: Locust Grove High School

Turning a program around

Matt Hennesy became the head coach at Locust Grove in 2011 and welcomed Fine to the team a year later. It didn't take him long to recognize Fine's talents as a high school quarterback and also his potential as a college signal-caller.

Locust Grove was 2-28 in the three years before Hennesy's arrival. The team went 5-5 in Fine's freshman season and 37-3 in Fine's final three years, with each loss coming in the postseason.

A former linebacker at Kansas State, Hennesy knows how the recruiting game is played. Coaches want leaders and athletes who can move the ball with their arm and legs, but they also want their quarterbacks to have size.

"I've been doing this a long time, and I get it," said Hennesy, a high school football coach for more than 20 years. "These big schools are recruiting more on how many stars a kid has rather than what you do on tape. Mase can play football. He's special. He's one of those kids that you can't replace because of his leadership and work ethic.

"Take away his height, you can't find a flaw with him. I'm telling you, [if] he was 6'2", every school in the country would want him."

Fine is coming off a senior year in which he threw for 4,232 yards and 53 touchdowns and led Locust Grove to the Class 3A state quarterfinals. He completed 65.4 percent of his passes (251 of 384), and he also rushed for 631 yards and nine touchdowns.

He was even better as a junior, leading his team to the state semifinals while throwing for 5,006 yards and 71 touchdowns—both single-season state records—and also rushing for 514 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"If I look back on my life and ask, 'Do I have any regrets?' I can honestly say no," Fine said.

Credit: Locust Grove High School

Fulfilling a dream

Fine has aspirations of one day obtaining a degree in business management. Still, the pull of football is strong enough that he also said he'd like one day to go into coaching.

All of this, obviously, will take a back seat if he's fortunate enough to beat the odds and make the NFL. Fine is short, but so is 5'11" Russell Wilson. And 6'0" Drew Brees. And 6'0" Johnny Manziel. Wilson and Brees each have a Super Bowl ring. Manziel has a Heisman Trophy.

Prior to committing to North Texas, Fine was considering a pair of Division II schools, Central Oklahoma and Emporia State. He also considered a preferred walk-on opportunity with Oklahoma State.

Hennesy has a good relationship with Littrell, and the two had been in contact about Fine and what he could bring to the program. Fine is hoping he can help turn around the culture at North Texas—similar to how he helped turn things around at Locust Grove.

Fine is looking forward to learning the Air Raid offense from Littrell and Harrell. Littrell helped North Carolina set program records on offense during his two-year stint as assistant head coach from 2014-15. He also played running back for Oklahoma from 1997-2000. Harrell was a quarterback at Texas Tech from 2004-08 and still holds several NCAA and program passing records.

"I think I can learn a lot from Coach Harrell," Fine said. "He was so successful at Texas Tech running the Air Raid. I feel like he's the next big thing coming up with Coach Littrell. They are two of the best offensive-minded people in the country.

"It's going to be a lot of fun learning from them. I'm going to be there soaking everything up and listening to everything they have to say."

Fine doesn't know his immediate future at North Texas, as the Mean Green return starting quarterback DaMarcus Smith and will also have Alabama transfer Alec Morris competing for playing time. As a graduate student, Morris is eligible to play immediately.

One thing's for certain: Fine is in the position he wanted. All he wished for was a chance.

"I know I can only control what I can control," he said, "but I want to always be ready for that opportunity. I have to continue to be patient and be happy for the things that have gone right for me so far. I have to see that light at the end of the tunnel."

Damon Sayles is a national recruiting analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports.com's composite rankings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

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