Another Very Good ‘Short’ Quarterback Rises From Oklahoma

DENTON, Tex. — When the 2019 faculty soccer season begins, the lively Football Bowl Subdivision chief in profession passing yards will probably be a small quarterback from an appropriately tiny city who acquired a single F.B.S. scholarship provide popping out of highschool.

That North Texas bothered to recruit Mason Fine in any respect in January 2016 owes itself to a dialog between Seth Littrell, the Mean Green’s incoming head coach, and Matt Hennesy, Fine’s highschool coach in Locust Grove, Okla.

The two males had been pals for years, and Hennesy knew Littrell wanted a quarterback. He had simply the man. This was “a once-in-a-lifetime kid” who was the one two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Oklahoma historical past. He had elevated a doormat program to a state title contender, notched pinball numbers in the identical Air Raid offense Littrell runs and but he had accrued zero main recruiting curiosity except for an invite to stroll on at Oklahoma State.

Sounds nice, Littrell thought. What’s the flaw?

“He’s short,” Hennesy stated.

Short, in Fine’s case, is 5-foot-10, a determine that for generations has frightened faculties and stood as a dying knell to N.F.L. goals. Even now, after amassing 9,358 passing yards and back-to-back seasons with a completion proportion above 63 at North Texas, and main a school most individuals outdoors the state barely affiliate with soccer to a 9-Three report, Fine is bracing himself to be neglected as soon as extra when he exhausts his eligibility subsequent 12 months.

“It’s harsh, but it’s the way it is, and the way the league is,” Fine stated throughout an interview forward of Saturday night time’s New Mexico Bowl towards Utah State. “I’ve been told I can’t do something my whole life.”

For his half, Littrell isn’t involved. He has “an extreme amount of confidence” that Fine compares favorably to established N.F.L. quarterbacks.

“He is just as good as Nick Foles and is just as good as Mitch Trubisky,” Littrell stated. He ought to know. Before coming to North Texas, he coached Foles at Arizona and Trubisky at North Carolina. “At this time in his career, maybe better as a player over all.”

Fine was born in Peggs, Okla., an unincorporated city of 813 too small for even a welcome signal. He took up soccer within the fourth grade when his father, Dale, signed him up for a youth league in a neighboring city. Neither father nor son knew what he was doing — “I remember showing up for the first day of practice, and my pads and my pants were upside down,” Fine stated — however the boy threw effectively sufficient to be slotted in at quarterback.

The subsequent 12 months, his father drove him two and a half hours to Norman, the place Oklahoma held a youth soccer camp. Fine remembers hanging on each phrase Josh Heupel, then the Sooners’ quarterback coach, informed the gang about quarterback mechanics.

When the camp was over, he spent the drive again to Peggs jotting down all the things he might recall in a pocket book. His father then typed it up, and the doc turned their blueprint. Every night time after Fine’s father returned residence from work, the 2 threw for half an hour till dinnertime, making use of every tip from Heupel’s lecture, and some issues they gleaned from different camps, in each go.

On it went for 4 years, till Fine arrived at Locust Grove as a highschool freshman with a 135-pound physique however a lot of the method he nonetheless makes use of in the present day.

“Throwing with my dad in the yard, that’s the foundation right there,” Fine stated.

When his senior season ended, Fine resigned himself to accepting Oklahoma State’s walk-on provide or taking part in for a faculty within the lesser Football Championship Subdivision. Then Littrell took Hennesy’s recommendation and in contrast Fine’s movie to the remainder of the quarterbacks on his shortlist, a number of of whom had Power 5 convention gives. He noticed sufficient to take an opportunity.

“Game for game for game, it wasn’t even close,” Littrell stated. “It just felt like: ‘Why not? We don’t have anything to lose.’”

Littrell supplied a scholarship, and Fine dedicated on the spot. He deliberate to redshirt however as an alternative broke fall camp because the backup to Alec Morris, a highly-touted graduate switch from Alabama. That’s the place he figured to remain, till Littrell abruptly inserted him into the fourth quarter of North Texas’ first sport that season. Fine led a landing drive and was named the starter the next week. Three years later, he has damaged just about each crew passing report and has led the Mean Green to their finest two-year win whole for the reason that 1970s.

But the burden of proof is increased for smaller quarterbacks within the N.F.L., whilst gamers like Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson expertise success. This 12 months’s Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray, figured to be a degree of competition amongst draftniks had been he not already signed to play baseball for the Oakland A’s. The problem is particularly true for quarterbacks main the so-called Air Raid offense, the fast-paced, wide-open faculty scheme that’s solely starting to achieve a foothold within the N.F.L.

Fine should show he has sufficient accuracy, athleticism and smarts to make up for his supposed peak deficiencies. His coaches imagine he has greater than sufficient of all three.

“He’ll end up making the team as a backup, he’ll sit there and be that backup guy that doesn’t get a ton of reps,” stated Hennesy, who doesn’t disguise that he desires to see Fine show his doubters unsuitable once more. “But when his number’s called, he’s never leaving the field again.”

“I’m just going to laugh and sit back and watch,” Littrell stated.

Fine has different ambitions ought to the N.F.L. not work out. He is 1 / 4 Cherokee, and his mother and father have labored for the Cherokee Nation in numerous capacities. He thinks sooner or later he would possibly run for presiding chief.

“I went back home over the bye week,” Fine stated, “and I had about three people tell me: ‘You just need to hurry up and run for chief already. You have my vote.’”

It’s one among many paths Littrell might envision for his quarterback. Coaching is likely to be one other.

Or, higher but, “I can definitely see him being an athletic director,” Littrell stated, earlier than smiling on the considered a job reversal.

“Maybe he’ll take a chance on me.”

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