Spotlights

Face of the Week: Tavon Mason of Franklin Middle School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.
11/13/2017

Face of the Week: Tavon Mason of Franklin Middle School

On Tavon Mason’s desk is a yellow children’s book and, on its cover, you will see Mason himself, decked out in football gear, running alongside a book, a pair of slippers, and a report card. The book is titled “Tavon Does It All.”

Truth.

Mason has packed a lot of living into his 37 years: Woodlawn High and University of Virginia graduate. Star high school football player and track athlete. Substitute teacher. NFL wide receiver for the New York Jets. Collections agent. Rent-A-Center associate. School counselor. High school and college football and track coach. Children’s book author. Foundation founder. Husband and father of three boys and two girls.

And, since 2016, a behavioral specialist at Franklin Middle School, a job he says gives him as much satisfaction than anything he’s ever done. “It means the world to me to be able to connect with these young people,” Mason says. “Whether it’s fate or God or whatever, this is where I’m supposed to be right now.”

How Mason got here is a circuitous story of embracing opportunity, finding second chances, and keeping faith in his own future. His is also a uniquely Baltimore County story, from growing up in Edmondson Heights and learning under the tutelage of former Woodlawn principal and football coach Brian Scriven to his repeated returns home to the county and school system that have helped to both shape and sustain him.

“Tavon balances an incredible warmth and strength. He is truly a paternal figure in the Franklin Middle family,” says Franklin’s principal, Brian Schiffer. “I honestly don’t know what we would do without Mr. Mason in our building.”

A future in football

Mason’s journey was anything but preordained. As the younger son of a body shop manager and a data entry specialist, Mason spent much of his youth playing Woodlawn rec league football and pondering careers as either a pediatrician or, after seeing the movie “Top Gun,” a fighter jet pilot.

It wasn’t until high school that his natural talents and versatility began to impress. On the gridiron, he played positions ranging from quarterback to punt returner to safety. And running track for the Warriors, he medaled in a variety of sprints and short-distance races.

His world also began to open up under the leadership of Woodlawn track coach Gerald Russell, who would annually take his teams to one or two out-of-state meets. During one trip to North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Mason says he became enchanted with the campus and the idea of attending a “big-name” college.

“I told my dad about it when I got home,” Mason says. “I seemed to (perform) better on the road, too.”

In short order, Mason became a standout. On Woodlawn’s football team, he was named Most Valuable Player and team captain three times, and he earned All-State, All-Metro, All-County, and All-City honors by the time he graduated, rushing for 3,300 yards and 46 touchdowns. He earned All-County honors in track, including championships on the county and regional levels.   

And with the acclaim came letters, showing up at the Mason home from Division I schools like Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech. He chose to attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville – “away from home but not too far away,” he says. “It was a way for me to spread my wings, but not too much.”

In Charlottesville, Mason continued to excel, at least on the field. From 1999 to 2001, Mason played in 34 games as a wide receiver and kick return specialist, making 50 receptions for nearly 600 yards and four touchdowns. Off the field, however, Mason says he let his studies slip. He majored in anthropology, but with the freedom of college came responsibilities that, like many college students, he didn’t immediately appreciate.

“I didn’t want to do the academics; it was always just easier to sleep in,” he says. “Part of it was not having the checks and balances you do in high school. It almost got me sent home twice.”

It wasn’t until a November 10, 2001, game against Georgia Tech that pro scouts sat up and took notice. In that game, Mason returned a kick for 103 yards, a scramble that put him on the NFL’s radar screen. Suddenly a pro career began to crowd out thoughts of becoming a pediatrician and fighter pilot, and Mason was on his way.

Finding a different path

For the next few years following his graduation from the University of Virginia in 2002, Mason says his life was a whirlwind of cell phone calls, suitcases, and shuttling between Baltimore County and Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., where the Jets football team practices.

His initial experience was disappointing; on draft day, friends and family gathered for a draft party but left dejected when Mason’s name wasn’t called. He recalls hearing his cell phone buzzing after the day was done – probably just consolation calls from family – and he didn’t answer.

But Mason was wrong. One call was from his agent: the New York Jets were interested after all, he said; they wanted Mason to try out for the team. “That turned my frown upside-down,” Mason says. Another call, missed at the time, was from the Philadelphia Eagles. By then, however, Mason was committed to the Jets. He would pack up his 1990 Honda and head for Hempstead.

“That’s when it begins, when you head for training camp,” Mason says. “Your phone rings and you go. You learn early: When your number is called, you’ve got to be ready.”

Mason flew through training camp and was signed as a wide receiver by the Jets. But after appearing in each preseason game, he was released by the team; too many players to keep on the roster, they told him. Better luck next time. It was the fall of 2002.

He drove back to Baltimore County and signed on as a substitute teacher at his alma mater, Woodlawn High. A few months later, Mason was in class one spring afternoon when his pager hummed again. It was the Jets calling back; would he try out again, this time for the 2003 season?

Once more, Mason headed north. He completed training camp and played another four pre-season games for the New York team, including against his hometown team, the Baltimore Ravens, and traveling to Tokyo for an exhibition game. But once more, when pre-season ended, he again found himself cut and bound back to Maryland.

“It was the same story – too many receivers, not enough slots. And that’s when I really began to understand the business of it,” he says. “You’re listening for your phone all the time and living out of a suitcase. I was done.”

Following a substitute stint at Deer Park Middle School and a position in the collections department at Rent-A-Center, Mason took a job at a group home working with children with behavioral issues or those on the autistic spectrum.  He had always enjoyed working with children, but this was something different. “I really began listening with these kids. I discovered what great people they are and how important it was for me to create good relationships with them,” he says. “The wheels in my head began turning.”

Years passed, and Mason spent more time working with special needs children at a variety of programs and schools. He found his background as a star athlete gave him gravitas with children, and he regaled them with his stories of life at Woodlawn, UVa., and in the NFL.

All the while, Mason kept one foot on the field, continuing to train up to four hours a day after a commute that took him from White Marsh to Sykesville. And his work paid off in 2009, when he gave the game one last shot and starred with the Baltimore Mariners indoor football league for a season. But by then, the attraction was wearing off.

“Why would I want to make the change?” he says. “Was it worth living out of a suitcase and putting my life on hold to see if a phone call will come?”

From football to Franklin

By 2011, Mason was back in Baltimore County schools, this time coaching football at Woodlawn High, “showing them what I knew.” He also began working for Trellis Services, a Glencoe program that works with autistic children.

That year, he also visited Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, where he observed patients who had little more than socks to wear during their stay. Within a year, he would start his own foundation, the Tavon Loves the Kids Foundation, and begin a drive to collect slippers for children up to age 18 who must undergo long hospital stays. Since 2012, Mason’s foundation has collected more than 2,000 pairs of slippers.

“That (visit) ignited it,” he says. “I started looking for ways to help kids. That’s my purpose now, expanding on those efforts.”

Mason’s efforts have included writing his children’s book in 2015, conducting a summer reading tour, sponsoring canned food and clothing drives, and starting a 60-day regimen of healthy habits and exercise, where he promotes a message of “putting down the joystick and the cell phone and reconnecting.”      

With help from old friends and colleagues, Mason landed at Franklin Middle School in 2016 as a behavioral specialist. Within a year, he and Matt Elliott, a Franklin Middle music teacher, created an afterschool mentorship group, the “G Squad,” (the “G” stands for “Gentlemen”) and his presence continues to inspire students.

“He mentors a group of students, his G Squad, but welcomes all students into his office,” Principal Schiffer says. “He helps students, often those with very challenging situations, in ways that have lasting impact.”

Mason attributes his ability to relate so well to students to his gregarious personality, as well as his connection to football. He still coaches, too – he’s now in his fourth year as a cornerback coach of the Stevenson University Mustangs.

“A lot of kids are struck by the NFL tag,” he says. “But I hope they see me as more... I think they do. It means the world to me when I hear them say they didn’t think anyone from Baltimore did anything.”

Tavon Mason has done a lot. After all, there’s a book sitting on a desk in front of him that tells us so, a book called “Tavon Does It All.”

And so he does.    

For more information about the Tavon Mason Loves The Kids Foundation, visit http://www.tavonmasonlovesthekids.org/.

Do you know of a special person who would be a good candidate for the BCPS “Face of the Week”? Let us know! Send their name, contact information, and what makes them special to cherndon@bcps.org.  

For more photos, visit the album at the BCPS Flickr page.

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