It’s all in the landing.
Whether going up for a powerful two-handed dunk in basketball, leaping over a defensive back for a highlight reel catch or reaching out and extending for a furiously spinning Frisbee, the only real thought you have is how you’re going to land.
Marquis Mason has performed all three of those athletic plays during his journey through sports and life.
As a standout basketball player at Madison East High School, Mason powered his way over smaller defenders and used his superior athleticism to leap high and land softly.
Following his East journey, he was a promising wide receiver at the University of Wisconsin where he hoped his work ethic and superior athleticism would land him a spot both on campus and later in the pros.
And now, as a competitor in professional Ultimate Frisbee for the Madison Radicals, Mason still leaps and reaches for his dreams. Now all he wants both on and off the field is a soft landing.
It hasn’t always happened that way. While at Wisconsin Mason suffered two devastating knee injuries that kept him from performing the way he and fans knew he could. With each surgery the dream of turning pro seemed to fade away. He had switched sports from basketball to football with the hope of being a professional athlete. He had chosen Wisconsin as his college because he dreamt of bringing a championship home to Madison.
Now, it seems, Mason has the opportunity to do both of those things. He is a professional athlete now. Just in a different sport than he ever thought possible. And he has a chance to bring that championship home to Madison.
The Madison Radicals, who play at Breese Stevens Field, are one of the top teams in the Midwest Division of the American Ultimate Disc League — in fact, they clinched their fourth straight division title last weekend. They have also embraced Mason as he has broken into the sport.
“It’s been a learning curve, definitely a big learning curve for me,” Mason said. “This being my first professional team, I’ve had to learn every aspect of the game.”
Like in football, there are offensive and defensive lines as well as skilled scorers and defenders. But Mason says the two sports aren’t as similar as one might think.
“Outside of someone just chucking the Frisbee and me really going to get it, there aren’t many similarities between this and football,” he said. “The ability to get open and creating separation between me and the person guarding me are kind of similar, but it’s not the same physicality.”
Mason says the transition to Ultimate Frisbee didn’t happen overnight. As a seventh grader he played in the Madison Ultimate Frisbee Association (MUFA) and loved it. After his career at Wisconsin was over, Mason decided to give pro Frisbee a try and was surprised to learn that it was very different from the brand of Frisbee he’d played in Junior High. He’s had to rely a lot on his more experienced teammates to help with the transition.
“How I learned to play at MUFA wasn’t how I’m learning to play here,” Mason said. “So I’ve just had to unlearn a lot of stuff. It’s been great. My teammates know this is a brand new sport for me. They’ve been great in helping me, everyone telling me different things and teaching me. I was taught to be a perfectionist at Wisconsin. Trying to do everything that everyone says has been the hardest part. But you can never accept too much help. It’s been a great transition. I’m never scared to ask a question or anything like that. Even things like throwing the Frisbee they’ve been helping me with like on weekends.”
But with the specter of his former injuries weighing on his mind, Mason says the hardest thing is thinking about how his body will hold up every time he lands from reaching into the sky for the disc.
“I’m always worried about coming down because I tore both ACLs. So I’m always worrying about that. That’s why I stopped playing football.”
Mason hopes that as he progresses in developing his skill set for Frisbee he will become the devastating scorer he envisioned himself as being both for basketball and football.
Last week, the Radicals defeated the Chicago Wildfire 26-17 in Chicago to improve to 11-2 on the season. The Indianapolis AlleyCats come to Breese Stevens Field at Noon today in what will be the final home game of the regular season.
On August 12, the Radicals will play for the Midwest Championship and a victory there would send them to the Final Four Playoff in Montreal on August 26-27.
Off the field, Mason is helping others find a soft landing as well. As the Director of Youth Programs and the Boys Group Coordinator at the Kennedy Heights Community Center, Mason keeps an eye on being a role model for kids who are just like he was.
On Friday he oversaw a field trip to Rockin’ Jump in Madison, where his boys would be able to let off steam and have fun. Mason hoped not to jump too high (those creaky knees again) and was pretty sure he would be attacked in a game of dodgeball. But the trip was about more than just good clean fun.
“I think at Community Centers like this you have someone who didn’t necessarily grow up in that specific community but comes through and runs a group like this, it has a great impact,” Mason said. “I want to do that for my boys here and have them look at me and see I came from the same area and made it out because of all the decisions I’ve made. Just being a positive role model who is constantly in their lives. That was a big issue for me growing up. Not that we didn’t have male role models but there just weren’t enough of them.”
Mason is a constant force in the boys he mentors lives which is not much different from his goal as an Ultimate Disc professional.
“I really just want to be a key contributor, someone they can really rely on,” Mason says about both his team and his young friends. “I get the rookie treatment which is great and not great at the same time! I want to be a key contributor. Someone who can score on a consistent basis. But I know everything is a process. And obviously to bring a championship to Madison that is something I have dreamt about my whole life.”
Beginning this August, Mason will have his chance to do just that.