By CHIP CIRILLO
Amos Mason had plenty of former Brentwood Academy football players to turn to while deciding if Navy was the right place for him.
Former BA standout Jabaree Tuani was a Navy captain in 2011. Mason Graham, Barry Dabney and Kwazel Bertrand also played for the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen.
“When it came down to it, I asked them to tell me the truth,” Mason said. “They said it was going to be a little tough here and there, but it was going to be worth it. Them telling me that you’re going to have a guaranteed job for five years, more if you want it, and then a top-of-the-line education that was second to none.”
Jackson Pittman is a freshman nose guard at Navy.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of kids go there lately,” BA coach Cody White said. “I have a lot of respect for those kids and they represent our country well, I think. Our kids have had success there and I’m sure they’re happy to have Brentwood Academy kids come in and play. And we’re happy to send them.”
Mason, a senior defensive end, has helped Navy get off to a 3-0 start this year. Last year he racked up 47 tackles and two sacks.
“A lot of people were questioning our defense and our offensive line, especially,” Mason said after a season-opening win over Fordham. “So it was great to put a stamp on the world and say we’re back. And we really haven’t changed that much.”
Mason and nose guard Patrick Forrestal led a goal-line stand on the final play that preserved Navy’s 28-24 win over Connecticut last week.
“That goal-line stand symbolizes who we are,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo told The Washington Post. “Things looked bleak. I didn’t see the play. I was closing my eyes praying. I had no idea what happened. Shows what kind of coach I am. I don’t know what happened. I just looked up, and our guys were cheering.”
Former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, an ex-Goodpasture star, has graduated, but Mason is optimistic. Reynolds finished his career with a Division I record 88 touchdowns and the all-time quarterback rushing record (4,559 yards).
“Keenan is gone, but I think we have very capable guys that have to fill his spot,” Mason said.
Mason isn’t the only former BA defensive end shining at the college level. Tennessee’s Derek Barnett is one of the Southeastern Conference’s top pass rushers.
“I try and text him every once in a while,” Mason said. “I know Derek very well.”
Navy’s defensive scheme allows the linebackers to do more of the pass rushing than Tennessee’s, giving Mason and Barnett different roles.
“Ours is a take one on the chin, let the linebackers make those tackles, and we can make the tackles that come through our gap,” Mason said. “We don’t get to pass rush.”
Mason won three Division II wrestling titles at BA en route to a 133-match winning streak. But he didn’t feel invincible.
“I had a few scares in high school on that 133-0 trail,” Mason said. “Those kept me humble, my coach kept me humble. It was just one match at a time after that.”
Mason’s win streak started during his sophomore season in 2011 when he won the 215-pound weight class at the state meet. He went undefeated during his junior and senior years, winning the 220-pound titles.
His wrestling background aids him on the football field.
“It helps with balance, core strength,” Mason said. “In wrestling you always have to find that next gear even when you’re dog tired when you have to go into overtime. So just that mentality of when you have nothing else left, you can still push on. That helps you, especially deep in the fourth quarter/overtime in football.”
Mason also won the DII discus championship as a senior in 2013.
The 6-foot-1, 266-pound Mason began his Navy career as an outside linebacker before switching to defensive end during spring practice of his freshman year.
“Oh, he’s a phenomenal kid and we knew what they were getting,” White said. “He’s a warrior. He’s probably a little bit undersized for those bigger schools, but plays a lot bigger than he is.”
Mason suffered an ankle injury against Army last season, but he’s back to 100 percent.
Former Midstate players are scattered throughout Navy’s roster, including fullback Jalen Wade (Independence), guard Steve Satchell (Independence), kicker J.R. Osborn (Christ Presbyterian Academy), center Parker Wade (Ensworth), offensive tackle Andrew Wood (Friendship Christian), quarterback Malcom Perry (Kenwood), outside linebacker O.J. Davis (Shelbyville) and offensive tackle Jackson Mitchell (Lipscomb).
Wade and Wood are also starters and Pittman is second string.
“It’s awesome,” Mason said. “They make it a little home away from home.”