FRISCO, Texas — Mason Fine could easily say ‘I told you so’ to those who doubted his potential as a college quarterback.
The University of North Texas quarterback has built a sturdy platform from which to shout those four words.
The two-year starter enters this season as Conference USA’s reigning offensive player of the year. Fine helped orchestrate the Mean Green’s turnaround, which includes last year’s nine-win campaign and bowl appearance. The season before he arrived, UNT only won one game.
Not bad credentials for someone who was believed to be just an undersized prospect from Locust Grove High School.
“There are a lot of people that I’d like to say that to, to be honest with you, but there’s still a lot of people that I have to prove wrong,” Fine said on Wednesday during a C-USA Kickoff event in Frisco. “I’m going to keep striving, keep getting better and reaching for the stars.”
Fine will guide an experienced UNT squad that’s been selected to repeat as C-USA West Division champions. He’s eager for the Sept. 1 home game against SMU (“I get butterflies in my stomach, but it’s a good nervous,” he said) and is looking forward to carrying momentum.
Fine’s journey enters a third season in lockstep with coach Seth Littrell, who tapped the unrecruited 5-foot-11, 185-pound quarterback as the cornerstone of the UNT offense.
“He means a lot more than what he thinks,” Fine said of Littrell, a team captain of Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship team. “I don’t think he realized that he made a kid’s dream come true. I don’t think he’s ever really thought about that. When I grew up, I wanted to be a college football player … I just needed an opportunity. He gave me that. That’s all I asked for.”
In two seasons, Fine has rocketed up the UNT record chart. He’s already thrown more 300-yard passing games than any other player and owns all the major single-season passing marks at the Denton, Texas, school.
“I knew he was going to be a special player,” Littrell said. “Once you evaluate his game tape and evaluate him versus other quarterbacks you may have been evaluating and recruiting, it was a no-brainer for us. I didn’t really care about how big he was. I knew he would be comfortable in the system.
“Just watch the tape. To me, it was very evident that he could play at a high level at this place and he was smart. He was going to have a chip on his shoulder. He was going to be a special player.”
When asking about his foundation, he immediately points to his parents, who keep him grounded. He loves it when discussion turns to Locust Grove High School and his hometown of Peggs. He’s ready to get Jennifer Garner’s autograph. The actress recently bought her family farm in Locust Grove.
And he smiled when talking about Locust Grove fans making the 65-mile trek to Fayetteville to watch UNT play Arkansas on Sept. 15.
“They’ve been there since day one, when we were 2-28 and then turning that program around. I go there and I’m grateful to come from a community like that,” Fine said. “They are just great people. The love and care that they give to me personally and my family is something I never really expected but it came with it and I’m truly, truly happy that I have a community like that behind me.”
He also has a football team around him. Fine sets an example for the team, Littrell said, through his work ethic.
“He’s always been one of those guys who doesn’t care about his stats. He only cares if you won or lost,” Littrell said. “This off-season, he’s really stepped up into his leadership role and has been a positive influence on the rest of the players. He’s got a chance to be a special player. Again, I think it comes down to being such a great teammate. His teammates know that and I think it rubs off on those guys. You have to kick him out of the weight room. … He’s the hardest working guy on the team. He’s been raised in a right way by a great family. He’s going to be successful with whatever he does in life.”
What Fine craves now is a championship, which has eluded him throughout his football career. With nine starters returning on offense and eight on defense, this could be UNT’s season.
“Winning a bowl game and winning the conference has been my goal for two years and we have yet to achieve that and we came up short the last two years,” Fine said. “As a football player, I’ve never had a ring. I never won a state championship in high school. That was another big loss. I’m going to keep striving.
“That’s the chip on my shoulder. I’ve never achieved what I wanted as a team and a football player. That chip on my shoulder is bigger than ever.”