WESTMINSTER — Derrick Mason proudly watched as his son bolted out of his stance and sprinted across the practice field with a familiar stride.
Like his father and namesake, Derrick II plays wide receiver with a smile on his face.
“They’re out here because they love the game, and, as you get older, sometimes you lose sight of that,” Mason said during his recent youth football camp at McDaniel College. “I haven’t lost sight of that. I still play with the passion of a little kid. As long as that’s here, I’ll continue to play.”
“Just to have fun, that’s why I play the game. I have fun and I enjoy it. Once I stop having fun and enjoying it, I’ll quit.”
Heading into his 15th NFL season and having celebrated his 37th birthday in January, the Baltimore Ravens’ veteran wide receiver has maintained a standard reached by few other wide receivers in league history.
Impressively durable with a gritty style and willingness to play through pain, Mason has caught at least 60 passes for 11 consecutive seasons to match NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. He ranks one year behind Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez’s dozen years in a row of 60 receptions or more.
Only Mason, Rice and Gonzalez have achieved that milestone.
How did the two-time Pro Bowl selection last this long?
“It’s been a blessing,” Mason said. “I haven’t had any major injuries to my lower extremities. There hasn’t been anything I’ve done differently than the greats or the guys that have played five or six years. I take care of myself and I work hard.
“I make sure I work as hard as I can in the offseason and push my body to the limit and sometimes over that. So when I get into the season, it’s easy for me. It’s just a bunch of lessons and God watching over me and working hard.”
Mason has played in 138 consecutive games, ranking second in the NFL behind Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Mason ranks 12th in all-time receptions with 924 catches, placing him in some exclusive company in NFL history behind Rice (1,549 catches), Marvin Harrison (1,102), Cris Carter (1,101), Tim Brown (1,094), Terrell Owens (1,078), Gonzalez (1,069), Isaac Bruce (1,024), Randy Moss (954), Hines Ward (954), Andre Reed (951) and Art Monk (940).
The ranking is a testament to Mason’s skill and longevity.
“You look at Jerry and Tim Brown and from my era Terrell Owens, what he’s been able to do at such a high level each year, and it looks like he hasn’t lost a step,” Mason said. “That’s because of how he takes care of his body in the offseason. I try to emulate people like that. It makes you want to go in the offseason and work as hard as I can and not get those little injuries other guys get.”
Rice (1998, 2001 and 2002), Henry Ellard (1995, 1996), Rod Smith (2004, 2005) and Mason (2008, 2009) are the only NFL receivers to surpass 1,000 receiving yards after the age of 34 since the NFL-AFL merger.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft out of Michigan State, Mason was the ninth receiver selected that year.
He was drafted 98th overall following first-round receivers Ike Hilliard, Yatil Green, Reidel Anthony and Rae Carruth, second-round picks Joey Kent, Kevin Lockett and Will Blackwell and third-rounder Dedric Ward.
Unlike those players, Mason is still active and going strong. With 16,980 all-purpose yards, Mason is the lone NFL player to generate at least 11,000 receiving yards and 5,000 return yards.
He’s the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver with 471 catches and 5,777 yards and ranks second behind tight end Todd Heap with 29 touchdowns.
The compact 5-foot-10, 197-pounder said there’s no secret behind what he’s accomplished. Just hard work, and a stubborn streak.
Dedicated to a year-round fitness regimen and a strict diet, Mason doesn’t make the mistake of ever letting himself get out of shape.
“I can’t let myself go,” said Mason , who caught 61 passes for 802 yards and seven touchdowns last season. “When you let yourself go, it’s harder to get back into condition. I take maybe two or three weeks off after the season and then I get back into the gym. I’m always doing something involving cardio. I have to stay moving. Once I stop, I’m done.”
Mason has already decided that he might retire after this season when his two-year, $8 million contract expires.
If the Ravens win the Super Bowl, the Detroit native says he’ll definitely retire.
“Yeah, this could be my last year,” said Mason, who has broadcasting aspirations for a post-football career. “I guarantee it will be if we win the Super Bowl. That would be it for me. I want to go out on top like Jerome Bettis did. If not, and I think we will win it, then I’ll see where it goes from there.”