Scouting the Cats: Meet the one special-teamer you'll never know unless he messes up

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 19, 2014 

  • Scouting the special teams

    The main man: One of the most anonymous players on the field, the long snapper, is the most important leader for the special teams unit, coaches said. Kelly Mason, a junior and two-year starter, has been a vocal player in the locker room for more than just the specialists.

    The supporting cast: Mason and fellow two-year starter at punter Landon Foster are the model of consistency and they lead the specialists. After the graduation of long-time kicker Joe Mansour, Austin MacGinnis steps in and should be ready and steady, special teams coach Craig Naivar said. He missed a kick in the spring game but responded well. Ryan Timmons is likely to return punts this season while kick returning still being worked out.

    Outlook: Cats coaches are comfortable with the kicker and punter and key players around that group, but like much of UK's team the players playing on return units will be talented but young. Two key special teams tacklers last season, Dyshawn Mobley and A.J. Legree, have both transferred out. UK's special teams will try to return a punt for a touchdown for the first time since 2010. The Cats haven't returned a kickoff for a score since 2009. Timmons might return kickoffs, as could Javess Blue or Demarco Robinson. Several freshmen are being considered as well.

  • Season opener

    Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky

    When: Noon Saturday, Aug. 30

    TV: SEC Network

On Senior Day, when his name is called at Commonwealth Stadium, Kelly Mason hopes fans will look at each other with blank stares.

"I try to remain as anonymous as possible," he said this week. "If you know my name, that means I messed up."

Mason has been the UK long snapper for all but one game of the past two seasons.

Fans have heard of Bud Dupree and Jordan Swindle and other players who have been tabbed as key team leaders by Coach Mark Stoops.

For the special-teams unit, Mason is a Dupree or a Swindle, his position coach said.

"If that group went to war, he's the one giving out directions," Craig Naivar said.

The special teams coach even took it a step further.

"He's kind of an unsung man on our team," Naivar said. "I mean he's a true team leader. Not many deep snappers are team leaders and not many people know his name because he's really good."

Mason started long snapping in high school by accident when his coach saw him joking around and snapping the ball to his friend the punter. He is good at it because he's a bit of a perfectionist.

All of the specialists — Mason, punter Landon Foster and first-year placekicker Austin MacGinnis — are obsessive about their football jobs, and other things.

Foster and Mason were in the same finance class last semester, and they often would compare grades.

"I'd get a 100 on one test and he'd get like a 97 and he's like mad," said Mason, who has been on the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll for two straight years. "On the final, it was opposite and he beat me.

"But it didn't matter. We both ended up with like a 100 in the class. Like the grades, obviously on the football field, we're perfectionists who want to be the best we can be."

When Mason was younger, his mom would organize his closet by color. Now he's lost if he doesn't have his that way.

"Things have to be put away in a certain order," he said. "If I forget to put my toothbrush away and I come home, I'm shocked that I did that. It bothers me a lot."

That might sound a bit obsessive-compulsive to some people, but it's what makes Mason a punter's dream.

"He's definitely a guy you want on your side," Foster said of his 6-foot-3, 223-pound long snapper. "He pays attention to detail. He does everything by the book that you should do. He's a good guy to have on my side, and I'm glad to have him snapping to me all four years here."

Mason knows that most people's perception of the long snapper is the guy on the team who can throw it the fastest and hardest between his legs. When his high school coach saw him snap it a few times to his frend, the coach said, "I've seen worse, so you can do it."

But Mason doesn't want to do it just well enough to satisfy a high school coach.

He knows that every inch counts. Some punters want the ball snapped at facemask level, but Foster prefers it on his hip: left hip for punts to the left and right hip for punts to the right.

"One inch off on your form and it's a 1-foot, 1-yard difference in the actual snap," Mason said. "So that's why it's such an art form and technical. A little thing can affect it in a huge way.

"If I'm doing my job right, he can punt the ball out of the stadium."

And if he's doing his job right, Kentucky fans will never know who he is.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: UKfootball.bloginky.com.

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