ATHENS, Ga, _ During spring practice this year, backup quarterback Hutson Mason was rolling right when he took a hit from Amarlo Herrera, a fierce and ornery inside linebacker. Before anyone on the Georgia football team quite realized what was happening, Mason was up and in Herrera's face, and the two were going at it.
"I just felt that he kind of cheap-shotted me, and I let him know how I felt, and one thing turned into another," Mason said. "But after practice it was over."
This past Saturday, Mason was trying to get a play called faster than his offensive line was ready. Center David Andrews had to try to slow Mason down.
"We butted heads a little bit," Andrews said.
Michael Bennett, who has been Mason's roommate the past four years, was asked to list any other fights Mason has gotten into.
"I think those are the only ones," Bennett said. "But, yeah, he has a little fire in him. That's what you need at quarterback. He's not gonna take nothing from nobody."
That's Georgia's new quarterback. The word that comes up most often when teammates are asked about Mason, now the starter after Aaron Murray's ACL injury, is fiery. Murray, the most prolific passer in Georgia history, was also known for a more happy, eternally optimistic personality. He would raise his voice when necessary, but not as much as Mason, a fourth-year junior who has long waited for this chance.
"He really is a guy who's a unique character," junior receiver Chris Conley said. "He can be loud, rambunctious and definitely fiery. Definitely fiery, especially when you're on the field. He's passionate about the game, and he's passionate about the offense. He knows the way he wants it run. That's why there's a little different feel when he's in the huddle."
That fire works well when you're winning. But what about when things are going bad? Is there any danger in finger-pointing?
"I don't think that he lets it go overboard," Conley said. "He knows how to temper it, and he knows how to reach people. The interesting thing about Hutson is he knows pretty much all the guys on the team, and he knows how to speak to each of them. He knows which guys he's gonna make angry and not get production out of, and he knows which guys it's gonna motivate."
There's more to Mason than just his fire. The Marietta native is also candid and reflective, especially when it comes to his long wait to ascend to this spot.
Twice he came close to transferring. He was openly frustrated when Murray decided to return this season. But he still knew that 2014 would be his year. Now the chance has come two games earlier than expected.
"It's unfortunate the way it happened. Sports are cruel," Mason said Tuesday. "But they also can teach a lot of life lessons. That's what I've learned over my four years. It's just part of being a backup, you've gotta be ready at all times. There were a lot of times in my four years here where I was just kind of tired of being in the same position, mentally, physically and emotionally. I can't tell you every day I walked in here I wanted to prepare. I was wondering if my opportunity would ever pay off."
Mason also has a frank confidence about him. During a media session Tuesday, he mentioned that he only has 16 games in his starting career, "so it's not a lot of time to leave a legacy, to leave a mark."
Yes, he had already counted 14 games next year. Georgia would only play that many games if it reached the SEC championship, or the semifinals and finals of the coming playoff.
"I got high expectations," Mason said, grinning.
Mason was a three-star recruit coming out of high school in 2010, playing for Lassiter in Cobb County, Ga. He set the Georgia single-season state passing records for passing yards (4,560) and touchdowns (54), and he once had 552 passing yards in one game. At Georgia, it took him until last Saturday's game to exceed 552 career passing yards. (He now sits at 705.)
In fact, Monday was the first time Mason was the first-team quarterback through an entire practice. That's how durable Murray had been. But Mason still managed to impress coaches and teammates, and they seem convincing when saying they expect little drop-off from Murray.
"Hutson's got a little bit weaker arm. But I think he does a great job of kind of getting it on guys quicker," Bennett said. "He's very accurate, as you saw (against Kentucky). That one he put on Rhett (McGowan) in cover-2 was great. That's just one of the many great things he does at quarterback."
Bennett also praised Mason's ability to check down on receivers and his ability to escape the pocket.
Andrews, who laughed off his argument with Mason, called the new starting quarterback "a very commanding guy" who won't have any confidence issues in a big game.
"It's a different style than Aaron, but something we can adjust to, and we're used to out of Hutson. We know it's coming," Andrews said. "Hutson's Hutson, and he's not changing just because he's starting now."