High School Sports

Mason finally able to make his mark

Spring Valley tailback Markese Mason follows his blocks through the line during drills.
Spring Valley tailback Markese Mason follows his blocks through the line during drills.

Markese Mason burst up the middle, bounced off a Hartsville defender and landed in the end zone for a Spring Valley touchdown Friday night.

After he handed the ball to the official, Mason jogged back to the Vikings sideline, accepting congratulations from his teammates along the way.

Once there, the 17-year-old removed his helmet to reveal a steely glare that captured his focus. It's a focus that will be necessary if Mason is to achieve his goal of playing college football.

The touchdown was the senior's seventh in four games for Spring Valley. Because he made family and church needs his priority before this season, those four games represent the entirety of his high school football career.

He may be late to the game, but he's determined to keep his career going.

"I have plans to go to college and try to continue playing football," Mason said. "It's really going to take hard work. I'm going to have to work way harder."

Life's circumstances nearly ended Mason's prep career before it started.

Mason's mother and father are divorced, and he hasn't seen his dad in eight years, although they speak on the telephone.

As the oldest of six children, Mason skipped one football season to get a job at McDonald's and help with family finances.

"It really devastated us," said Erika Hall, Mason's mother. "It was football, and that's what he wanted to do. But we needed help."

That was another example of Mason's inner drive.

"I had to help my mom out," Mason said. "I had to get a job to help the family, because my dad isn't with us."

Hall has since married again. Her new husband, Anthony Hall, was stationed at Fort Jackson and the family moved from Savannah to Columbia.

Mason enrolled at Spring Valley in 2007, but another talent kept him from playing football.

Since he was 5 years old, Mason has played the drums. In Columbia, the family began worshipping at Triumph International Ministries on Taylor Street where Mason plays drums in the church band.

Playing there on Thursday and Sunday, in addition to his involvement in youth programs on Saturday, left little time for football.

"Without Markese," Erika Hall said, "we don't have a drummer."

Still, Mason always remembered the success he had in football, whether playing with neighborhood kids or in middle school in Savannah.

"I feel like God has blessed me with the ability, because out of all of (those young kids), I was one of the best ones," Mason said. "I hadn't even practiced or nothing. I just went out there because I loved it."

Mason joined Spring Valley's team for spring practice in May 2008. But he returned to Savannah to live temporarily with his grandmother. When he returned later that summer for the start of school, he had missed so much practice that Vikings coach Quay Farr couldn't keep him on the team.

"It's been like a yo-yo," Farr said. "He's been back and forth. He's a great kid. He's got a great demeanor about him. He's always been a good kid. But everything surrounding him has been in the way of him playing football."

Finally, down to his last chance as a senior, Mason is on the field and making an impact. But even this season has been a struggle.

He played sparingly in Spring Valley's season-opening victory against Richland Northeast and was out for their Week 2 loss to Dutch Fork because of flu-like symptoms.

His first full game came on Sept. 11 at Lexington when his four touchdown runs led the Vikings to a 28-21 win.

Talk about making an entrance.

"I'm so proud of him," Erika Hall said. "This is what I feel he was born to do. Ever since (he was) a little child, it was always football, football, football. I'm so proud of him."

Mason surprised even himself.

"It felt good. It felt really good," Mason said. "Really, my mindset wasn't to come out and do something that good. But you get into a game and you are focused and things just happened."

He's followed that game with strong performances in losses to Irmo and Hartsville. After Friday night's 23-carry, 115-yard, one-touchdown game in a 21-17 loss to Hartsville at Harry Parone Stadium, Mason has 429 yards and seven touchdowns.

"He's really just played three games," Farr said. "He's a complete ball player. He does a lot of good things. If he had played the last two years, he'd be one of the better running backs in the state."

For all his hopes and dreams, the reality is that Mason's future in the game remains uncertain after this season. His nomadic academic career between Savannah and Columbia, along with his truncated playing career, suggests that landing a college scholarship won't be easy.

But, then again, not much has been easy for Mason.

Yet he and his close-knit family refuse to let the past cause him to lose hope.

"We talk about it all the time," Erika Hall said. "We are built on faith. We had tell Markese to keep the faith. You are going to make it. You are going to college. We know he's going. He's going."