published Friday, January 10th, 2014

Auburn's Mason, Bama's Kouandjio leaving early

Auburn running back Tre Mason (21) runs against Missouri defensive back Randy Ponder (7), in Atlanta during their Southeastern Conference NCAA championship game in this 2013, file photo.
Auburn running back Tre Mason (21) runs against Missouri defensive back Randy Ponder (7), in Atlanta during their Southeastern Conference NCAA championship game in this 2013, file photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

After rushing for 499 yards in his last two games, Auburn tailback Tre Mason is rushing to the NFL.

Mason, who almost led the Tigers to a second national championship in four years, announced Thursday that he was forgoing his senior season. The 5-foot-10, 196-pounder from Palm Beach, Fla., rushed for 1,816 yards this past season, breaking the school's single-season mark of 1,786 set by Bo Jackson in 1985.

"I'm a dream chaser," Mason said at a news conference, "and I'm trying to turn a dream into reality."

Less than three hours after Mason declared for the 2014 draft, four Alabama players did the same. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix made expected decisions to depart, and they were joined by defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan and linebacker Adrian Hubbard.

Kouandjio and Clinton-Dix are projected to be first-round selections.

"These players are always going to be a part of the Alabama tradition," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said at a news conference. "They're always going to be a part of the Alabama football family because they've done just a marvelous job in their careers here of being great ambassadors of this university and for our football program. We appreciate them more than you know for all that they've done."

Kouandjio, Clinton-Dix and Pagan are true juniors who experienced a three-year Tide stretch that produced a 36-4 record and BCS championships in 2011 and '12. Half of their losses occurred in the last two games, when Alabama dropped a 34-28 decision at Auburn and fell 45-31 to Oklahoma in last week's Sugar Bowl.

That made the NFL decision tougher than expected for Kouandjio, who struggled in the Sugar Bowl but could be a top-10 pick.

"It's like poison in my veins to know I could have finished off the year better," Kouandjio said, "and I felt as if we had unfinished business. I felt as if we needed to reclaim order in the SEC, but I had to use my logic and my reason."

Mason told reporters he received a third-round grade from the NFL's draft advisory board.

After rushing for 1,002 yards as a sophomore, when he was the lone offensive bright spot in a 3-9 disaster, Mason this season joined Jackson, James Brooks, Stephen Davis, Carnell Williams and Michael Dyer as Tigers tailbacks to reach the milestone twice. He strengthened as the year progressed, amassing 164 yards against Alabama, 304 against Missouri in the SEC championship game and 195 in Monday night's 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS finale.

"Our staff is extremely proud of him," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "I recruited Tre, and going to the NFL was a goal of his. They're getting one of the tougher individuals in all of college football. He can run between the tackles. He's got great courage, and he plays his best games in the biggest games.

"He did a wonderful job for us, not only this year but really his whole career, and not only the way he played football but the way he represented Auburn."

Mason's 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining gave the Tigers a 31-27 lead over the Seminoles that was too short-lived for Auburn, but his lasting memory will be his SEC title-game performance, when he carried the ball 46 times.

"That wasn't the game plan," he said, "but at the time it was unstoppable."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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