COLLEGE PARK -- The scene was one of mass euphoria. Some University of Maryland players cried, others high-fived while a few hoisted coach Joe Krivak on their shoulders.
But amid all the hysteria, the smallest man who had played the biggest role was sitting alone in the back of a truck -- exhausted, tired and drifting somewhere in his own twilight zone.
"It was like, 'What did I just do?' " said Maryland sophomore halfback Mark Mason. "It still hadn't set in."
This is what Mason did on a cool, clear day Nov. 17 against Virginia in the regular-season finale: He rushed for 116 yards on 18 carries. He had touchdown runs of 59 and 8 yards, the latter the game-winner with 11 minutes, 23 seconds left in the game. The effort helped Maryland upset No. 8 Virginia, 35-30, while also giving the Terps their first winning season since 1985, not to mention giving Krivak a new, four-year contract.
And it put Mason in the spotlight.
"I don't think Virginia knew too much about him," said Jerry Eisaman, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. "I bet you they will this time around."
Virginia will get another look at Mason at Byrd Stadium on Saturday at noon, when both teams open their seasons.
This time, Mason, 5 feet 8, 190 pounds, will be bigger, stronger and a little faster. And the Cavaliers likely will be better prepared for him this time around, too. Don't expect any bunched-up, 5-2 defenses. Virginia has to respect Maryland's outside running game.
"I heard they have my picture up in the locker room throwing darts at it," said Mason. "You have to consider what we did to them last year, and I was a big part of it. They want some type of retribution. I'm out to prove that it wasn't some kind of fluke."
The Maryland coaching staff knows it wasn't a fluke. Mason gave an equally impressive performance (15 carries for 93 yards) in the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl nearly a month later. It was the first time since Ricky Johnson and Michael Beasley were in the backfield in 1988 that the Terps had a running back who possessed that kind of outside speed.
"I kept asking myself why he wasn't playing last year, too," said Eisaman of Mason, who played in 10 games last season, mostly as a kick returner. "I can't speak for Tony [Whittlesey, former running backs coach], but I guess he didn't feel Mark, especially as a freshman, had all the pass pickup and assignments down.
"But, I tell you what, he's one tough running back, and the guy can go coast to coast," said Eisaman. "We'll definitely try to get the ball in his hands."
But how much?
Despite being a breakaway threat, Mason is still listed as No. 2 behind senior Troy Jackson, a straight-ahead runner who led the Terps with 662 yards on 176 attempts last season.
Mason, though, says Jackson deserves to start.
"Troy doesn't have the speed that I do [4.7 in the 40-yard -- compared with Mason's 4.3], but if you watch him, Troy doesn't make mistakes," said Mason. "He's always doing what he is supposed to be doing. If it's third-and-one, Troy is going to get you that 1 yard. I'm more prone to try to break it, and sometimes I won't get that yard. It really doesn't matter, because I'm in the rotation and will play a lot."
Mason says he has more important things to be concerned about, such as proving he can play regularly. He added 20 pounds of muscle to an already fat-free body. He also set a team vertical jump record of 39 inches.
Another transformation from a year ago is his leadership on the field. Mason is one of the Terps' most vocal players, and he leads by example. Mason is a perfectionist.
"That's just the way I am, an intense, outspoken guy," said Mason. "I've got some expectations to live up to now; I'm one of the ones who has to have a big game. You know, my role model has always been Barry Sanders. And, now, the offensive linemen are always telling me to give them a little B.S. That's what I want to deliver now, a lot of B.S."
NOTES: Freshman RB Larry Washington, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season at Randallstown, won't be redshirted this season. Washington is listed as the Terps' No. 1 kickoff and punt returner. . . . Washington is the No. 4 running back in the Terps' 1-back offense. Freshman RB Raphael Wall from Wilde Lake probably will be redshirted, having missed practice time with a hamstring injury. . . . Freshman QB Scott Milanovich, from Butler, Pa., is listed as the No. 3 behind starter Jim Sandwisch, a senior, and junior John Kaleo. . . . Senior starting right CB Scott Rosen still is hampered by a pulled right hamstring, but practiced yesterday and should play Saturday. But expected starters OG Dave deBruin and TE Brett Stevenson are questionable. Both have missed substantial practice time with knee injuries.