LaPlace native scouting next move following pro career

Published 12:06 am Saturday, December 10, 2016

LAPLACE — If anyone has been trying to keep tabs on Damon Mason over the years, they’ve probably needed some sort of tracking map and a lot of pins.

Thanks to his talents as a football player, Mason has been all over the place, from Canada to Florida with stops in between.

For now, Atlanta is home, mainly because it was one of the last stops on his life’s road map. His heart, however, belongs to LaPlace.

“We would love to come back home,” Mason, 42, said. His wife, Tanya, is from Hahnville. They have two children.

“We have a pretty good life there. We can’t come home just to come back, though. It would have to have a purpose.”

St. John the Baptist Parish is where he started his football playing days with the youth teams of the area. When it was time to go to high school, however, Mason used a loophole to become a Destrehan Wildcat instead of an East St. John Wildcat.

It wouldn’t be the last time he left home.

Damon Mason had his No. 9 jersey number retired by the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2014.

Damon Mason had his No. 9 retired by the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2014.

After an illustrious career at Destrehan, Mason graduated in 1992 with a scholarship to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. While he showed up enthusiastic to be on the football field, he didn’t always show up to class.

He spent two years at Jones Community College, honing his grades as well as his football skills.

He returned to the Cajuns in 1994, eventually earning a starting spot.

By his senior season, Mason was a force. He was an All-Louisiana MVP, an All-South Independent MVP and a third team All-American, finishing his college career with 243 tackles. He still holds the school record for most tackles by a defensive back (135), most tackles in a season (135) and is tied for the most in a single game (21, vs. Houston). His No. 9 was retired in 2014.

He is probably most noted for his performance in 1996 against Texas A&M, a game few gave the Cajuns a chance to win. Mason’s 42-yard interception return for a touchdown helped spark a 29-22 upset of the Aggies.

Undersized by NFL standards, Mason gave the Canadian Football League a try but was cut before the season began.

Back home for a while, Mason worked three jobs while he mulled his future.

“While I was home, working those three jobs, a family I had met in Lafayette gave me a call,” Mason said. “Their family had just bought an indoor league team. And they said, ‘Come help us start this football team.’”

He started as the marketing guy, promoting the Bayou Beast. Then there was an open tryout.

“I’m so excited to put my cleats back on,” Mason said. “So, I’m out there working out with these guys and Jay Gruden and his staff just happened to be there.  They saw me running drills and the owner came up to me and said they were interested in me coming to Florida to play for the Orlando Arena team.”

Believe it or not, Mason hesitated at first.

“I was, like, ‘Why would I go to Florida to play football when I can stay right here in Baton Rouge and play football?’”

Gruden, who has since moved on to be an NFL head coach, appealed to Mason directly.

“He gave me a call and said, ‘I just saw your highlight tape. You don’t even have to try out. Just send me your shoe size and your jersey number.’ That’s how I got to Orlando.”

Mason would spend the next 12 years bouncing around the Arena Football League, making stops with seven teams.

“I have all my jerseys on a hanger,” he said.

His final AFL stop finally took him back home. He signed with the New Orleans Voodoo in 2011 as a player/coach, a position he held several times in his career.

Damon Mason's final stop in the Arena Football League was as a player/coach with the New Orleans Voodoo.

Damon Mason’s final stop in the Arena Football League was as a player/coach with the New Orleans Voodoo.

He also had brief stints at Destrehan High and Dunwoody High School in Georgia. He also applied for the East St. John High School head coaching job three years ago.

“Anything I can do to get back home,” he said. “St. John Parish was well known back in the 80s for baseball. We had some great men back then, like C.J. Watkins, Terry Charles, Juan Watkins, Boogie — I still don’t know his first name. They took it upon themselves to help young men of the parish through athletics. I would take it upon myself to be like them.”

Still the AFL record holder for most career tackles (1009) and second for most tackles in a game (17), Mason is working as a TSA agent until that right job comes along.

He also has started an athletic marketing company, Level Up Marketing, which aims to help athletes be seen by college recruiters. Among his clients is Riverside Academy athlete Garland Robertson Jr.

His dad, Garland Sr., said he is certain Mason can help his son.

“He helps kids get noticed and get a little more exposure,” Robertson Sr. said. “He has a lot of connections from his playing days. We go way back. I think Damon is the perfect guy to help him.”