Donaldson seizes first opportunity
University of Connecticut red-shirt freshman wide receiver Mason Donaldson saw the field on select special teams plays for the Huskies’ football team through their first two games this season. But heading into a late-September game against East Carolina University, the Salisbury High School graduate was in store for a bigger role offensively.
And when UConn’s top wide receiver, Hergy Mayala, left that game after just three plays, Donaldson was due for an even large role unexpectedly. He rose to the occasion and ran with his chance on the Division I stage.
Donaldson played 80 snaps against East Carolina and turned in a magical performance for the Huskies. He finished second on the team with 108 receiving yards on six catches, turning two of those into touchdowns in UConn’s 34-21 loss on September 24.
“The third play, the starter who was ahead of me went down, and they turned to me and threw me in there,” Donaldson said. “That was the first crack that I had offensively.
“It’s kind of one of those things where you’re surprised, but you’re not surprised that it happened. It was so surreal. When I got in the end zone it was a different feeling than high school. The whole stadium, thousands and thousands of people, started screaming and started yelling.”
It didn’t take Donaldson long to make his mark. After East Carolina scored on its first possession, the Huskies tied the game at 7-7 on a 45-yard strike from quarterback Bryant Shirreffs to Donaldson. According to Donaldson, everything else “fell into place” after the catch.
“The play was like any other play-action; we did our normal play-action roll out,” Donaldson said. “And I came across the middle and things fell into place. I don’t know if they blew the coverage, or their linebackers didn’t see me coming across the middle of the field. We had two routes on the other side of the field, and the safety and cornerback just ran with them. I caught the ball and there was literally nobody there. It parted like the Red Sea.”
The Huskies fell behind after a half of play, but Donaldson provided a spark in the early moments of the third quarter. A 14-yard screen catch-and-run brought UConn within 34-21.
While Donaldson didn’t anticipate playing nearly every offensive play for the Huskies, the preparation he had throughout the week with the first team paid dividends when his number was called. He didn’t let down his teammates when asked to fill in for Mayala.
“That was the original plan, but then with the injury happening things kind of changed,” Donaldson said. “I played about 80 snaps.
“With the knowledge that I was going to rotate in with him, they kind of sprinkled me in throughout practice with the first team. I was able to get the first-team reps and get the chemistry with the first-team guys. I was very comfortable with all the plays we were running.”
A week later, Donaldson was back at it. He played just about every series offensively for the Huskies and finished with two catches for 18 yards.
The status of Mayala is up in the air, but the team expects him to return in the near future. Regardless of Donaldson’s role and what it becomes when Mayala returns, he has already proven he belongs on the Division I stage.