By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Back in 2018, a group of sophomores made their way to the varsity football program at Munford High School.
That nervous, do-or-die year of transition is a time for 10th graders to prove to the coaches they are ready to step up from the freshman team. The Cougar coaching staff including Slade Calhoun saw a load of potential in the sophomore secondary class of Kelton Mason, Jarra Dowell, Jesse Savage, Jacoby Miguel and Treveon Hawkins.
After three years of playoff appearances, clutch interceptions and numerous individual honors, the quintet proved the hunches of the coaches. Now additional validation is starting to come in with the first signing of Kelton Mason March 2 to Campbellsville University in Kentucky.
“Kelton is a tremendous kid, a three-year starter for us,” Calhoun said. “He’s a super hard worker. He’s just a football guy. He studies film religiously — always practicing hard. No days off type of guy, he comes in and watches film on the weekends. Just everything you could want in a player.”
Now he will be a player for Perry Thomas’ Tigers in the Bluegrass State. Thomas has been the coach of the Fighting Tigers for almost 15 years and he kept in touch with Mason frequently during the recruiting process.
Calhoun said Mason’s signing is a huge relief to him and the Munford coaching staff because of the hurdles brought on by COVID-19.
“The recruiting part has been kind of tough,” he acknowledged. “Most of my seniors will tell you they were lucky to get in 9 regular season games and a playoff game. Our guys got to play 10 games and in a couple of states they’re still waiting to play their first. They’re only going to get 4 or 5.
“The recruiting part had been interesting because the NCAA guys are not allowed to come on campus,” Calhoun continued. “We’ve talked to some JUCO guys and NAIA guys. Everything else has been from a distance. I’ve had several schools say they don’t want guys to necessarily sign early because it might go through May. The college guys get another year if they so choose to take it. I really hate it for the seniors going out. It is even going to have an effect on my 11th graders I am afraid.”
Mason noted his coaches, teammates, peers, family and his pastor from Laughter Missionary Baptist Church in Covington helped him to keep his faith during the process.
Then the call came from Coach Thomas and a visit was made to Kentucky. Now Mason is the newest Tiger heading to play for the NAIA squad in the Mid-South Conference.
“He’s always wanted to play football since he was in the first grade,” Kelton’s motther Felisha noted. “It means everything to me to be able to see him live out his dream.”
His father Kenneth “Kenny” Mason said once his son arrived on this earth, he didn’t see football player from his size.
“Kelton was so small it seemed like he couldn’t even hold a football,” he acknowledged. “He’s always wanted to do this. He said he wanted to play college football and we hope it goes further.”
Kenny said his son’s determination was shaken by COVID-19, but a quick reminder of all Kelton has overcome in life got him back on track.
“All I had to do was tell Kelton to focus,” he recalled. “By me talking to him, he stayed focused with it and stayed on track. He made it through and now he’s heading out of here.”
Calhoun echoed the sentiments of Kelton’s father about his physique. Slim for a cornerback, Mason was fueled by doubters and his brothers in arms.
“I don’t know if he grew any but I remember thinking this guy is going to play after one of the first practices after I was hired as defensive coordinator in the spring,” Calhoun recalled. “He came up and made a big hit and I was like that is what I am looking for at corner.
“They all had that little special about them,” he continued. “They weren’t afraid to study. They weren’t afraid to work hard. The guys who want to are going to be able to go on and play at the next level. They all have that something special but it’s all about that extra drive.”
Felisha said the quintet of Cougars are all her sons and they helped push Kelton to the next level.
“His peers are everything to him,” she said. “They talk together. They do everything together. I don’t want to tell too much information but you may be here again for another signing.
“To each other these young men get together,” Felisha added. “I mean they go to church together. They’ve come to my house to eat. This is a brotherhood. This is something that will last them for life. The parents are even close. One can’t do something without the other ones being there for him.”
Mason said the tragic events that happened to his teammate Jesse motivated the Cougars each time they stepped on the field. The young man added to his faith and football to honor Jesse and to reach his dreams.
Felisha said witnessing her son sign his national letter of intent was a tough road but she was not surprised by the achievement because Kelton had an Ace in his hand the entire time.
“His faith is everything — God is first in his life,” she concluded. “Kelton as a child ushered at church. Kelton will get part of his scholarship because of his work in church. God is everything to him, he gets caught reading his Bible. He does all types of things and that is the side you don’t get to see. You see that toughness out there on the field but that comes from his faith.”