Growing up in West Baltimore’s Edmondson Village, Tavon Mason first attended what was then George Street Elementary School which was located in the Murphy Holmes Projects of Baltimore City, before his family moved to Baltimore County.
“Sports started just playing in the neighborhood. Having an older brother and flocking to him I got a chance to play against older boys,” said Mason.
Playing against older boys is something that Mason reflects on as having an impact on him that helped to make tough and competitive.
“It was an opportunity I believe the new generation of athletes didn’t have that opportunity, as far being able to get roughed up by the older boys,” said Mason.
Mason grew up playing with boys who were his age and up to about four to six years older than him who were closer to his older brother’s Jermon Mason’s age.
“My love of sports and playing in the neighborhood dates back to second grade,” said Mason.
Just like it was yesterday, Mason still remembers the first time he knew he wanted to play organized sports. It was one day when he was outside playing and saw that an older guy in his neighborhood, Rodney Petit had come back home with a uniform on. He ran up and asked him who he played for, and Petit answered Woodlawn Recreation.
“From that point on I was hooked. From fifth grade, in 1990 I started my first year of playing organized football, organized sports in general. 1990 started it all at Woodlawn Rec,” said Mason.
Mason enjoyed just being outdoors and being active. He loved getting a chance to prove himself against the older boys.
Mason added, “I would play football and basketball in the neighborhood we would go to empty lots, and even play baseball in the neighborhood. Anything to be active, have fun and be able to play with my friends and older boys in the neighborhood.”
To this day Mason vividly remembers his days playing with the Woodlawn Raiders.
“I was the fastest center on the team. I was probably like 80 lbs soaking wet, but they put me at center because that was my first year with Woodlawn Rec and a lot of the boys that played knew each other through elementary school so the coach really didn’t know my skill level or speed,” said Mason.
1990 jump-started a football, basketball and baseball career for Mason at Woodlawn Rec. This led to Mason trying out for Woodlawn High School’s football team his freshman year. He made the junior varsity team as a quarterback. But, during his ninth grade year on the JV team, he strained his hip flexor which is a problem he also had in middle school. This injury sidelined him during the season and served as a setback in his football career.
“I thought my chances of playing [football again] were slim and real bleak,” said Mason.
He eventually healed that year and got his body together for his sophomore year. He got a chance to play with one of the star guys on the team the late Keion Carpenter. When Carpenter was a senior, Mason was a freshman, and by the time Mason was a sophomore he started on the varsity team as a quarterback, after getting moved up during a playoff game. Carpenter was a mentor to him and a young man whom he looked up to back to his days at Woodlawn Rec. He would watch him when the late Carpenter with the Woodlawn Cardinals team played and he still remembers how he dominated the football field.
One of the highlights of his high school career came his sophomore year.
“Things started to look back up and become better my sophomore year,” said Mason.
His breakout moment came against Eastern Tech at home when he ran for a 95-yard touchdown.
“My number got called and I told the center if I tap you on your butt pad, I’m gone I’m going straight up your back, and I did it and went in for a 95-yard touchdown From that point on stuff started to build up,” Mason said.
This is when Mason also first attracted college scouts.
Mason added, “That started to open the eyes of the coach. At first, they just wanted me to hand-off left, hand-off right, if we do a bootleg you can throw to the tight end, they wanted to keep it simple for me. They just needed someone to hand it off and they told me if I could run to run.”
Mason went on to finish his high school career playing quarterback and safety. Mason began getting letters his junior year for colleges and universities. He was All-County, All-State just to name a few of his high school honors. Senior year Mason was starting running back and quarterback and finished the year with 1,300 rushing yards that year and 29 touchdowns. In total, in his high school football career, Mason rushed for 3,300 yards and 46 touchdowns during his career while totaling 485 yards receiving and 340 yards passing
Mason had received letters from the University of Notre Dame, Syracuse, University of Miami and Florida State for football. He even received a scholarship offer from Yale University to run track because in high school he was also an accomplished track star finishing second in the state of Maryland in the 100m and 200m dash. His team also had won the state that year at the University of Maryland- Baltimore County (UMBC).
“I had to go for football though. Football was my first love,” said Mason.
Initially, he wanted to go to Miami but ended up choosing Virginia because it was the closest scholarship offer he received to “home” and he wanted his family to be able to see his games. When Virginia came knocking and he found out it was only a three-hour drive, he went down for a visit and committed to the university by stoning his letter of intent on the news at his high school with his best friend who ended up going to Villanova.
“Virginia was a great school. It definitely opened my eyes to being around a lot of people in a huge university and being a student-athlete,” said Mason.
In the end reflecting back Mason knew Virginia was the right choice.
“Going to Virginia was a start over process just like any place you start small and then you grow, so I definitely knew it was a start over the process. I saw how much more effort and work you had to put in, in order to be one of the greats and to be able to get on the field” Mason added.
Prior to getting recruited to Virginia, he didn’t know much about it. He just remembered when they beat Florida State one year, it was a game he watched with his father who was an FSU fan and had made him a FSU fan. He still remembers watching the fans storm the field after they beat FSU.
His first year as a Cavalier he was red-shirted. After his first summer, he spent his summer working out to be able to play on the next level. He scored his first touchdown in 1999 when he scored was on a reverse against Wake Forest, a game that was broadcast live on ESPN2. He had the opportunity to play with one of the greatest running backs in the ACC Thomas Jones of two years.
“He made it easy because we would fake to him then handoff to me,” said Mason.
His second touchdown that year was against a star-studded University of Maryland football team with breakout star LaMont Jordan at was formerly known as Byrd Stadium. He was able to score on a corner route after senior wide receiver Kevin Coffey came out the game and allowed him to go in the game. He scored a 35-yard touchdown up the sideline. He showed progression and each year he showed progress. He stayed all year round at school and his last year at UVA he begins to set records and became a top wide receiver at the school. His last year he caught a kickoff in the end zone and ran it all the way back against Georgia Tech, 100 yards. This play alone put him atop the ACC though he didn’t start at his core wide receiver senior year until his fifth game. He led the school in return yards that latter year.
He played for the University of Virginia from 1998 – 2002 and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and still holds football records to this day.
“Seeing the draft coming up I see how it is especially for someone like myself that wasn’t going to be a high draft pick. Like some of them I didn’t have anyone school me on the draft.’ said Mason.
Mason talked about how he did not know the full scope of players being able to get picked up after the NFL Draft. “I knew nothing about that,” said Mason.
Mason trained, did the Pro Days, had a great 40 time, he did all he could to prepare as best as he could. The draft for Mason as he watched on the television was disappointing after he didn’t hear his name called. He was a free agent and he knew his family and friends also felt his pain and felt sorry for him.
“The one thing I kick myself in the but about I missed a call from the Philadelphia Eagles. When they called it had unavailable so I thought it was someone from the family calling offering sorrow, I had wanted to be left alone,” said Mason.
After Mason got a call from the New York Jets, he went back and listed to his voicemail and he called the Eagle back but because of the big scramble after the draft for teams to pick up guys they had already seen, the Eagles had already picked up someone in Mason’s place. His agent told him that the Jets wanted to bring him in for a minicamp.
“I was excited like a kid on Christmas, got off the phone called my dad to let him know what was going on and sat there with a ‘Grinch that Stole Christmas’ smile. I had a permanent smile on my face to know I was getting picked up by the Jets,” said Mason.
Again, Mason discussed preparing to have to start all over again, as he had to back in his early days at UVA.
“You’re a young man going to deal with other young men and older men and great athletes so you have to restart the car to make a name in a new arena. It was an awesome process to fly up there and see all that was going on with the Jets,” said Mason.
Mason talks about just how it was an honor to be on a team with greats like Curtis Martin, Vinny Testaverde, and Santana Moss.
“To be on the same field as these guys were awesome but at the same time it lets you know you have to restart,” said Mason.
In the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Mason was cut in August right before the last cut and before the season started.
After his NFL career, Mason returned back to the place he knew best, he came back home to Charm City.
“I came back home and executed Plan B which is something most athletes don’t prepare for,” said Mason.
He became involved in the Baltimore County public school system, including volunteering back at his high school where he had time to help work with kids and still have time to train. He also trained middle school and high school kids as well as himself because he wanted to be ready just in case he received another call from the NFL.
In 2009, Mason got back on the football field again playing with an indoor football league in Baltimore.
Today Mason is also the Vice President of the NFLPA Baltimore in addition to being an assistant cornerbacks coach for Stevenson University in his fourth season.
Mason also devotes his time to being a paraeducator at Parkville High School and a part-time instructor at Trellis Services. Most important to Mason he spends time giving back to his “Tavon Mason Loves the Kid’s Foundation” an organization of which he is the CEO and co-founder along with Melisa Brown. His organization promotes health, fitness, education and the importance of being active every day and eating healthy. His foundation holds a slipper drive, where they spend time with the families and kids at local hospitals and they have started to expand.
“This is something to make them feel comfortable while staying at the hospital. We let them pick slippers with their favorite characters,” said Mason.
Since 2012, the organization has given away more than 2,000 pairs of slippers.
Mason also is an author of an e-book he published in 2013 and a more recent children’s book entitled “Tavon Does it All.” Every summer he does reading tours, going into the different libraries in Baltimore and reads to the kids.
Advice to student athletes?
“I push the now factor if football doesn’t workout. Focus on the education piece from the beginning,” said Mason.
Why does Tavon devote his time to give back?
“I want kids to get back into reading and really take literacy seriously. While working in the school system I saw the decline in kids picks up books and I know it’s because the technology age and kids aren’t interested in reading any more. They groan and moan so I wanted to make reading fun again,” said Mason.
Mason had kids read and do fitness exercises as well to get children more involved. He created a diverse book and feels it’s important especially for young African-American youth to see a role model like him.
To all the youth, Mason wants them to know his story. Next time you go into Baltimore remember there are those like Mason who graduated from high school with great grades, went to college and graduated, played int he NFL and still gives back to his community. Let Mason serve as a role model that no matter where you come from it’s about your journey and how you reach out and give back.