The story of Dan Mason, the redshirt junior linebacker from Penn Hills who returned this season after nearly two full seasons lost to a knee injury and made a splash in the last two games, was an inspiration to Pitt fans and others outside the program.
So it's not hard to imagine the impact of Mason's comeback on his teammates. After all, they stood over him while he laid on the grass at Heinz Field with a devastating injury in September 2010. They watched him rehab, from walking in crutches to a walking boot to just wearing a brace the held his foot at a ninety-degree angle to his leg.
Then they watched him take that permanently-fixed foot and get on the field as the starting middle linebacker in Pitt's last two games, where he ran with it well enough to record 21 tackles in a pair of wins.
The Pitt players watched Mason as he battled back through seemingly insurmountable odds. And they took inspiration from his journey. So they were hit extra hard by the news that his season is over after suffering a lacerated liver in Saturday's win over Temple.
"He can't [catch] a break; that's a shame. I really don't know what to say," redshirt senior offensive guard Chris Jacobson. "I know what it's like to deal with injuries; he had a real bad injury and now this one. It's sad."
"You feel for him," redshirt senior center Ryan Turnley said. "Most people still don't know everything that he's been through. He fought through so many things, and the fact that he was even playing is still remarkable with the shape that he's in. He came out and was a warrior for us. He just played every snap like it was going to be his last and had a couple great games. We're still looking forward to his presence on the team."
Mason will certainly continue to be a presence on the 2012 Pitt football team. His voice stood out from the time he arrived as a freshman in the summer of 2009, and that voice never disappeared as he worked through the challenges of rehabilitating his knee. Mason was a presence from the sidelines, and having him on the field in the last two games only served to enhance that presence.
Turnley doesn't expect that to change.
"He's a guy that, even earlier in the year when he wasn't playing as much, he was a leader for this team. Guys have so much respect for him and what he's been through, and it's going to be the same way now: guys still have so much respect for him and the road that he's been on. He's a great piece of this team."
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