UNT QB Mason Fine epitomizes the resurgent Mean Green
Mason Fine’s fondest memories are his throwing sessions with his unlikely, live-in quarterback coach. As a young athlete, the aspiring football star attended many youth camps in his native Oklahoma, and the advice was always the same: Take these lessons home, and work on them with your quarterback coach.
So Fine would take a pigskin to his backyard in Locust Grove, Oklahoma — a small town outside Tulsa — and toss the football around with the only quarterback coach he had: his father. Fine’s father, Dale, helped Mason master the passing precision that is now the bane of Conference USA opponents.
“Family is everything to me,” Fine says. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Today, Fine is on top of the world — or, at least, Denton, Texas. As the fourth-year quarterback at the University of North Texas, Fine has witnessed — and led — a bonafide football resurgence in the Lil ‘d. After winning just one game the year before Fine’s arrival, the Mean Green won 5, 9 and 9 games his freshman, sophomore and junior years. During that time, Fine has become the model of consistency a team needs to accomplish a significant turnaround.
The Locust Grove native has won consecutive Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year awards and broken Mean Green records for pass attempts, completions, yards, passer efficiency, and 300-yard passing games. But just as he praises Dale and the Fine Family for launching his football career, Mason Fine will never take sole credit for any of his accomplishments.
“It’s a team sport, and I’m lucky enough to have a great team. It’s kind of like a family.”
Mason Fine grew up in a tight-knit family of Cherokee descent. As a kid, he worshipped OU football star Adrian Peterson. Baseball may have been Fine’s first love, but the more he watched Peterson run, juke, jump, score and scorch the Sooners’ opponents on the national stage, the more he pestered Dale Fine to let him play football. Dad ultimately gave in.
“The goal was just to play high school ball,” Fine recalls. “There was a time where that alone was the dream.”
But dreams change. Coaches hailed Fine’s talent and throwing arm at a young age, and as early as eighth grade, the young QB had visions of D1 football dancing in his head. Still, there was the pesky element of size to consider.
At just 5’11”, Fine is shorter than the average quarterback. That fact did him little favors during his later years in high school. Despite hurling 53 touchdowns his senior year at Locust Grove High School, and becoming the first player to win the Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year award twice, Fine earned a meager two-star rating from the popular recruiting website Rivals.com. Rice and Oklahoma State were interested, but not enough to make an offer. Fine’s D1 dreams seemed all but dashed when a man by the name of Seth Littrell came to Denton.
Fresh off a vaunted stint as Offensive Coordinator for North Carolina’s Tar Heels, Littrell came to town in December 2015, eager to turn things around for the Mean Green. Littrell, an Okie like Fine, knew Fine’s coach Matt Hennesy, who couldn’t speak more highly of his QB1. Littrell and the quarterback hit it off immediately.
“People talk a lot about what he does on the field, but they don’t see the work he puts in off of it,” Littrell told sports journalist Jim Rome. “He’s a workhorse.”
Littrell’s and Fine’s careers took off at the same time. While the quarterback was breaking record after record, Littrell was busy becoming the first Mean Green head coach in four decades to boast back-to-back 9-win seasons. Both men became Denton icons overnight. The city and its scores of newfound football fanatics breathed a collective sigh of relief when Littrell opted to stay in Denton for a fourth year, while Fine became so beloved that his university now sells a tee with “UNT” emblazoned on the front in the Cherokee language. Still, he defers all praise to Coach Littrell and his UNT family.
“Coach has created a culture of winning, a culture of community,” he says. “That’s what I love most about this group: the community.”
Is there anything Fine will take credit for? Better yet: Will he ever not praise his teammates, coaches and families (his literal family and his Mean Green troupe) for achievements others are eager to attribute to him? Doubtful.
His confidence? That comes from Dad. His stats? His coaches and teammates, of course. That historic last-second win over UTSA, where Fine led the Mean Green 98 yards in 67 seconds? Surely he would take a little credit for that, right? Maybe?
“That was one of the highlights for me,” he says, reminiscing about that game. He’s dangerously close to taking credit, to claiming his rightful, well-deserved status as hero of the Mean Green. But just as he’s about to brag, or come close to something remotely resembling a brag, Mason Fine veers left.
“I owe my guys on that one. With them, I knew everything would be fine.”
North Texas football
2019 Home Games:
8.31 vs. Abilene Christian • 9.21 vs. UTSA •
9.28 vs. Houston • 10.19 vs. Middle Tennessee •
11.2 vs. UTEP • 11.30 vs. UAB
Purchase tickets and check out the Apogee Stadium Gameday Guide at meangreensports.com