Things Appear More Than Fine Heading Into Year Three For Junior QB
C-USA Offensive POTY Mason Fine Is Anxious For 2018
DENTON – Take notice. Coming off one of the best statistical years by a quarterback in program history, Mason Fine appears poised to lead North Texas into the spotlight in 2018.
Recognition is flowing in for the Locust Grove, Oklahoma, native who was named a player to watch in 2018 by the prestigious Touchdown Club of Columbus and was announced as a strong candidate for the Sammy Baugh Award next fall. The reigning Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year pays that no mind, however, always shifting the conversation to praise for his teammates and coaches.
As he heads into his third season in Denton, Fine, who became the first Mean Green quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards (4,052) and 30 or more touchdowns (31), sees many areas for himself and the offense to grow.
“We know what the coaches want from us and we need to go out there and keep getting better,” Fine said after the opening practice of the spring. “We need to be more crisp. When I go back and watch film from the season, there’s a lot of things to clean up and that we can improve on.”
One thing is clear for the former two-time Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year: the game slowed down for him between his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was more efficient, more decisive, more patient in year two, and it showed statistically.
Fine certainly hit the big play frequently in 2017, connecting on 17 touchdowns of 20 or more yards, six on plays of 50 or more yards. His most efficient snaps, however, came on either out routes or hitch routes, completing those at a 75 percent clip. Additionally, he connected on 67 percent of crossing patterns. Those three routes were responsible for 1,454 of Fine’s passing yards (36 percent).
Pro Football Focus graded Fine as the 15th-best quarterback in the country by their metrics, and no returning quarterback threw for more yards than Fine. Only UCF’s McKenzie Milton eclipsed the 4,000-yard plateau, and Fine’s touchdown total through the air ranks sixth nationally among returners.
Something Fine never escapes is his height, which is a big part of why he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold of a quarterback, but that’s not something either he or his offensive coordinator Graham Harrell care about.
“Before I got here, I probably would have believed that [a quarterback can be too small] until I saw Mason play,” Harrell said. “You can’t measure intangibles, a kid’s heart, smarts, or his leadership, so with Mason he’s probably changed the way I view quarterbacks. Making guys around you better is the most important job of a quarterback. You don’t have to be 6-foot-4 to make everyone better, and that’s what Mason does.”
How high can this offense climb? Fine doesn’t think they’ve scratched the surface yet. That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses going against a group that returns three of its four leading receivers and has increased depth at all four receiver spots and along the offensive line.
“Having everyone back gives me a bunch of comfort,” Fine said. “You can see it in our first few days of spring ball, which have been much better than last year. We’ve got a lot of veteran players coming back and our experience has transitioned from our bowl game to practice. Those small things we work on will mean the difference between competing for championships and winning them. We as veterans know what to do, and we will focus to reach those goals.”
The comfort level Fine shares with his coaches is key as well, as he enters his third season under the tutelage of Harrell.
“I think the expectations for Mason are going to be extremely high,” Harrell said. “Everyone is going to have high expectations for him coming off the year he had, but that’s the great thing about him, that he’s very competitive and he’s going to hold himself to a high standard. We as coaches are going to hold him to an extremely high standard as well, so no one will expect more than we do, or he does for himself.”
Fine has grown from a quiet, confident fresh-faced freshman in the fall of 2016 into a full-fledged leader on the field and in the locker room. His mindset is simple: don’t change who you are. He came in with that chip on his shoulder and continues to work every day with it as his motivation.
“I focus on coming out here as a leader,” Fine said. “I make sure to always talk to the guys and bring the team together so we can get better as a whole. As a team we need to work together to create better teammates and leaders in this locker room. My mindset is to make this team better any way I can.”
The trigger man of one of the highest-scoring offenses in the Football Bowl Subdivision is looking to keep scoring in 2018. North Texas saw its scoring soar from 15.2 points per game in 2015 to 35.5 in 2017 since Fine, head coach Seth Littrell, Harrell and company arrived in Denton. Can they continue to give the scoreboard a workout?
“He’s already playing with a ton of confidence this spring,” Harrell said. “You can’t replace or teach experience. He’s got another year under his belt and his confidence level should be higher than it has ever been. He’s done some good things, and he has a lot more reps in the offense than he did going into it. When you play with confidence, usually good things happen and that’s where he’ll be.”
The Mean Green have a lot of time to continue to build on that confidence. Everyone will find out how much Fine’s mindset pays off on September 1, when North Texas hosts Metroplex rival SMU.