USC Gamecocks Football

USC’s Mason Zandi making strong impression on new staff

Mason Zandi: Last year for USC 'instilled a disgust for losing'

South Carolina offensive lineman Mason Zandi speaks at SEC Media Days Thursday in Hoover, Ala.
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South Carolina offensive lineman Mason Zandi speaks at SEC Media Days Thursday in Hoover, Ala.

South Carolina offensive tackle Mason Zandi wanted to make the distinction.

He and his teammates had visited Fort Jackson and experienced some of the training privates are put through. Think climbing a wall and 150 yards of crawling in the sand under a grid of barbed wire 18 inches off the ground with gunfire overhead.

“Gunfire doesn’t really bother me too much, but you ever seen a machine gun go off?” Zandi said. “It’s a lot different.”

One might imagine his comfort comes from a life growing up in the country and hunting from a young age, but he insists his hometown of Chapin is a lake community where people mostly fish. He only picked up hunting as a senior in high school, and admitted his mom hates guns and doesn’t know he shoots before suddenly growing sheepish in front of a group or reporters at SEC Media Days.

With Zandi, little is one-dimensional.

Sitting up at podium, he pondered why everyone focuses on the lessons of losing (winning has lessons as well), while also saying it instilled a level of disgust for letting down fans, friends and themselves. He declares the trip to Hoover, Ala., a dream come true, an odd balance between knowing a coach has the trust to let him represent the program, but with the overshadowing fact the dream involved answering the same question several times.

His family history goes deep, the sort of story that impresses strangers when they hear it, but seems so normal to him because it’s what he grew up hearing. His father, Ali, escaped the Iranian revolution in the 1970s, came to the United States with no money and unable to speak English. Yet he made his way to a successful life.

He even stepped into the role of mimicking Steve Spurrier’s trademark viral Arby’s photo after media day.

There’s a bit more to the 6-foot-9 former two-star prospect who caught on with the hometown school and made good.

He caught the attention of South Carolina’s new coaching staff quickly, and part of the reason Will Muschamp brought him to media days was how he quickly bought in.

“I’ve been very pleased with his work ethic,” Muschamp said. “He had a really good offseason, really committed himself to getting stronger in the weight room. He’s a young man that’s got a chance to play for awhile because of his size. He’s extremely intelligent.”

After making the 30-mile move from Chapin to USC, he played sparingly his first two years after redshirting. He always attracted attention because of his size, but didn’t break into the lineup until 2015, when he started 10 games as a junior.

He’s moving from right to left tackle, making him a key pillar for the most seasoned unit the offense has. And that has an impact on everyone else.

“Five-year guy that’s been around and knows the ins and outs of SEC top-tier players,” said defensive end Marquavius Lewis, who goes against Zandi in practice every day. “I try to learn from him as much as possible. What he does really affects what I do, and what I do really affects what he does.”

Zandi possesses enough institutional knowledge that when he was asked about the best defensive ends he’d faced in the SEC, he deflected by pointing out he’s faced the best in practice: current NFL players Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney, who departed years ago.

Now he’ll be able to help bring the younger players along. He made it, going from an overlooked prospect to the kind of player a coach brings to media day.

And whether it’s splitting hairs about the sound of gunfire or sharing something a new player has never seen, his different perspective makes its mark.

“I really enjoy just being around the guys,” Zandi said. “Surrounding myself with a lot of the young guys and helping them understand the terminology and helping them understand the grand scheme of things, because in reality, football’s just a huge game.

“Sometimes you need a little abstract view.”

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