Mason savors return trip
A return trip to the Rose Bowl doesn’t fit under the family tree.
“I can remember the first two trips out there, how much fun it was, the great atmosphere,” Wisconsin’s former wide receivers coach said this week. “I can remember standing in the tunnel before the game thinking it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Mason, 54, traveled with the team to California as No. 4 Wisconsin (11-1) continues preparing to face No. 3 Texas Christian (12-0) in the 2011 Rose Bowl.
“During preseason (camp), I let our coaches talk to the (team) about different things,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “One of the things I had Henry address before the season was the championship teams that he was on here, what separated them.
“I think to come full circle for him is really fun.”
Mason’s role is different this time. When Wisconsin won the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls, Mason was a valuable offensive assistant and key recruiter under Barry Alvarez.
More than three years after suffering a spinal-cord injury in a fall at his home, Mason serves as Wisconsin’s director of football player personnel and external relations.
Part of his job is to work with the state’s high school coaches, NFL player personnel officials and aid in on-campus recruiting.
“He helps me off the field with so many things,” Bielema said.
Mason, who joined the Wisconsin staff after the 1994 season, was forced to quit coaching because he isn’t fully recovered from the paralysis caused by the fall. He still walks slowly, with a noticeable limp.
“Without question it is a different mind-set for me this time,” he said of not being on the sideline coaching.
Mason acknowledges that after Wisconsin beat Stanford in the 2000 game to become the first Big Ten team to win consecutive Rose Bowls, he anticipated the Badgers would return to Pasadena.
That it has taken this long surprised him.
“I hear people say all the time that you think you’re going to get there a lot more often than you do,” he said. “After the second time, I don’t think there was any question I thought we’d get there again.
“But the more you go, the more you understand just how hard it is to get there and how things have to fall in line to get there. You certainly appreciate the times you have the opportunity to get back.
“I think our fans thought we’d be going back more often, and I hear stories of them doing anything they can to get out to that game. They understand it is hard to get there. It’s something you never take for granted.”
Wisconsin senior tight end Lance Kendricks and senior wide receiver Isaac Anderson joined the program in 2006 and worked under Mason that first season. Kendricks, who redshirted in 2006, started out at wide receiver before moving to tight end.
Senior wide receiver David Gilreath joined the program in 2007. Assistant coach Bob Bostad handled most of the recruiting efforts with Gilreath, though Mason was also involved.
Mason didn’t attempt to hide his sense of pride and satisfaction when asked about seeing those players reap the reward of returning to the Rose Bowl.
“I think the biggest thing when you are from Wisconsin and you recruit those type of guys,” he said, “the one thing that you try to emphasize in the recruiting process is that they’ll have the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl.
“To see that come through and see these guys ready to make the trip out there, it validates what you’ve been saying to them. It validates the program. And it validates their decision to come here.”