Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was probably right about Mason Fine not actually being 5-11, especially when he graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2016. However, Gundy could have been wrong for not taking a chance on the only two-time Gatorade Player of the Year from Oklahoma.
Fine was offered as a preferred walk-on at OSU but didn’t receive an actual scholarship offer from any of the three in-state universities, with North Texas being his lone FBS offer. Before the offer to go to Denton from newly hired Seth Littrell, it looked like Fine was headed to Stillwater as a walk-on.
OSU had its sights set on Nick Starkel at the time, but even after Starkel decommitted to sign with Texas A&M, Fine was still without a scholarship offer. Monday, at his weekly press conference, Gundy was asked about Fine and why the coaching staff didn’t offer a player who is now flourishing at another program almost three years later.
“I’m almost sure that we had somebody lined up, and we liked (Fine),” Gundy said. “I think he came to camp, but I can’t remember. That was a long time ago for me.
“But we liked him. He is a great illustration of a really quality and productive player who gets overlooked because of his size. In my opinion, that’s what happened. I don’t think he’s 5-11. I vaguely remember him being 5-10ish, somewhere in that area. He was small, but tremendously productive.”
Fine was the most productive quarterback in Oklahoma preps history, throwing for 13,081 yards and 166 touchdowns.
“You have to be really careful with numbers,” Gundy said. “Let me give you an example. Say you take a quarterback that’s average, and he plays on the best team in the state. And then he runs up 3,000 yards passing because he’s got great protection and he’s throwing to really good players. Or you take a guy who’s maybe better, but his protection is average, he’s running for his life and he doesn’t have as much skill as the teams he’s playing. So the latter may be a better player in college than the other one.
“We don’t pay a lot of attention to numbers. We have to look at the tape and study it, look at the future, project and so forth. And I’m almost sure with Mason, we were just a little concerned with him not being 5-11. He might’ve grown, but I don’t think he was.”
So about an inch decided that Fine was starting for UNT as a freshman two seasons ago, rather than competing for the starting job this past off-season as a redshirt-sophomore at OSU. That’s actually been a hot topic around the Oklahoma sports community this season: With a quarterback battle in Stillwater, would Fine be the Cowboys’ starter this season? OSU is starting a former walk-on, however, Taylor Cornelius is listed at 6-6 compared to Fine’s 5-11 stature. Cornelius would have been on campus two years before Fine, backing up Mason Rudolph the past two seasons.
Oklahoma City sports talk show host Jim Traber had a caller ask him last week if he thought Fine would be starting under center for OSU if that’s where he went. Traber, who played football and baseball at OSU, bluntly said no, saying Fine didn’t have the talent to compete at that level. The comment had Fine supporters irritated last week before Fine went on to throw for 281 yards and add two total touchdowns against Arkansas on Saturday.
But it’s all “What ifs.” Mason Fine isn’t playing for OSU, instead, he’s putting together one of the best careers in UNT history.
“I think in recruiting as coaches, and even maybe sometimes in the NFL, we lose how important it is if you’re a productive player, and we try to project guys and say ‘Well surely he’s going to be better as he’s bigger and stronger,’” Gundy said. “When if you’re really, really productive, like he was in high school, then I think it holds true that you’ve got a good chance to be really productive in college. I can’t remember our situation with him, but we talked about him. He was playing good last year, and we liked him. I think we just thought he was a little bit small.”
The story of Mason Fine’s life.