By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Mason Maples has played in 17 football games over two seasons for Bluefield College. All of them have ended in defeat.
Maples is confident that first win will come. Bring it on.
“Words really can’t explain how I am going to feel when we get that win,” Maples said. “I will probably be one of the happiest people here, I might run around the stadium, just sit here for a while, look at the scoreboard.
“I really can’t wait to celebrate the win with the fellows, it will be real fun. After the game we always try to find the positives, but after a win it will be a lot easier to do that. It will be exciting, it really will.”
Maples is one of the original Rams, having played for Bluefield (0-6, 0-2) in last year’s 0-11 season, in which one of its highlights was a remarkable homecoming run by the punter that led to little in terms of yards, but eventually led to a position change.
That punter was Maples.
“It was a big scramble for one yard,” Maples said. “I ran probably 50 yards for one, after that is when they decided I should move to offense.”
Maples is now a 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore tight end, who has caught three passes for 43 yards this season, and is a proven leader for Bluefield College head coach Ordell Walker.
“Mason is a very good leader, a tremendous attitude, he is a guy that is just willing to do anything for the team,” Walker said. “I get to coach him, I am his position coach so we have a lot of fun together, he is a good player.
“We really like both of our tight ends, they give us a 1-2 punch. He made some big catches, really tough catches in the game and put us in a spot to score the ball. I really, really love having him around.”
It was Maples’ 12-yard gain in last week’s loss to Belhaven that led to Bluefield’s first score, a 4-yard pass from Ashten Dixon to fellow tight end Matt Hollandsworth, who has 10 receptions for 173 yards for the Rams.
“Matt is definitely the receiving tight end, he is faster, we both have got pretty decent hands, but he is faster, he can break away and probably score on a long touchdown,” Maples said. “I am probably the better blocker, I mean he is still good too, I am meant for more of the inside the box stuff.”
Maples played at both Bassett and Franklin County high schools, working on both sides of the ball. He had dreams of playing at the next level, and was approached by former Rams’ offensive line coach Mike Compton.
“Honestly I didn’t know much about it at all,” Maples said. “Coach Compton came to my school and recruited me and just looking at all the options, I thought this would be the best fit for me.”
Call that a good decision.
“I like Bluefield College a lot, it is nice, it is small, it is kind of what I am used to,” Maples said. “I didn’t really want a big school, I wanted more where the teachers are closer to you and can help you out more with school and I can’t do anything to get in trouble and the school keeps you from doing that so I really like it. I like the mountains too.”
Playing on defense and as a punter last season for the Rams, Maples had 11 tackles in 10 games, but caught eyes with what he did improvizing with the ball.
“I came here as a linebacker and then I moved to d-end last year,” he said. “I ran the ball a couple of times as a punter last year on broken plays and the coaches said I needed to get the ball in my hands and moved me to offense. During the spring I did good and stayed here since.”
Maples quickly learned the differences between high school and college football. In order to overcome the disadvantages of not being as fast or strong as others, Maples has learned the importance of technique.
“I used to think I was big in high school until I came to college, just the size and speed is different,” Maples said. “You saw somebody who was fast in high school and then you have got everybody running the same speed as that one guy, and the size, the guys are strong, benching trucks.
“That was my biggest problem, especially last year, I got bullied, I really did.”
Maples worked in the offseason to get better, and then returned to Bluefield to find a new coaching staff in place.
“I really like the coaches this year, they are a lot more positive than last year, just the teaching and I really like the new offense,” said Maples, who especially likes the study hall that allows players to focus more on academics during the season. “They are really focused on us as players and not just ‘are we going to win or lose’, they care about winning, they do, but they care about us...
“Even on the field, the practices are always more positive, more competition, they make it fun and they are fun people to be around. I like them all, I really do.”
Maples, who is an aspiring coach, thinks the Rams are being prepared for more than just football.
“Go out there and do what they are doing,” said Maples, of his future plans. “We are all young, but we are going to grow up faster than we probably would have if they didn’t come here.”
Even though it might not be represented in the record, Maples does see improvement from the Rams, who have had hopes of victory dashed with late scoring spurts in each of the last three games.
“It is definitely getting better, like coach says, it is a process, I can tell from this year and last year, it is a big difference,” Maples said. “We may not have won a game yet, but you can definitely see by the stats and some of the stuff we do.
“We had 381 yards rushing in a game this year, we never even came close to that last year. You can see us getting better, we are going to get the win, it is coming, it is a matter of putting everything together and keeping away from those mistakes.”
Up next on Saturday is Union (1-5), the third straight game that the Rams have faced a team with zero or one win, but Maples said the reasons for such records is the rugged Mid-South Conference, which currently has six of its 13 teams among the top 25 NAIA teams in the nation.
“When I got recruited here they said it was the SEC of the NAIA and so far it has definitely been true...,” Maples said. “It is a tough conference, you have got guys who are all solid athletes, they are all good, some of them played at the D-1 level and came down. Every team is real tough.”
Bluefield has struggled all season with slow starts, and fourth quarter runs by the other team. Maples would like to see both of those trends change on Saturday when the Rams meet the Bulldogs at Mitchell Stadium.
“We need to finish, that is the biggest thing, we get in, we stay, we fight and we need to finish, and we need to start off better.” Maples said. “We start getting into the fight later on in the game.
“If we start off like that and finish strong instead of just the second and third quarter, we will beat a lot of good teams, we will surprise a lot of people.”
Kickoff on Saturday is slated for 6:30 p.m.
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org