Clarkdale Mason Horne file photo

Clarkdale senior running back Mason Horne carries the ball during the first half of the Bulldogs' game against St. Patrick Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at Clarkdale.

Clarksdale’s Mason Horne had a preference: He’d rather carry the football himself and follow a block instead of dishing out a block for another running back.

As an underclassman, Horne weighed approximately 205 pounds — not a bad weight for a running back, but the weight wasn’t “good weight.” So in February 2020, Horne began the Keto diet and dropped down to 165 pounds, then he joined Fitness Depot that summer and started bulking up.

Horne has maintained his fitness routine and is seeing the results of good dieting and strength training. He entered Friday’s game at Sebastopol having tallied 311 yards and five touchdowns on just 32 carries for the Bulldogs so far this fall, and Clarkdale head coach Jason Soules said the success is all because Horne took the time to sculpt his body into an ideal form for playing running back and defensive back.

“Mason’s always been our kicker — and he’s always been a good kicker for us — and we were trying to get him on the field and contemplated moving him to guard. That may have been why he started working out so hard, I don’t know,” Soules said with a chuckle. “Over the last year he’s worked extremely hard to transform his body for soccer and football, and it’s been a great blessing for both him and us. All the good things that’s happening for him, he’s earned. I don’t have enough superlatives to say about his work.”

While getting into shape was about more than football, Horne admitted part of it was because he really wanted to play a skill position.

“I wanted to get in shape in general but also wanted to play running back instead of offensive line,” Horne said. “I also wanted to get faster and just lose a little bit of weight.”

Last time he weighed himself, Horne said he was at 176 pounds, and his goal is 200 pounds of “good weight,” which is why he’ll continue bulking in the short-term. Prior to his junior year in 2020, Horne admitted he only lifted weights for football, but a membership to Fitness Depot in the summer of 2020 changed his outlook on weight training.

“At first I had a lot of friends who all got memberships there, so that helped encourage me,” Horne said. “To be honest, during my freshman and sophomore years I didn’t like working out because it kind of killed me, but I fell in love with it at Fitness Depot.”

Workout out, Horne said, is like football in that it’s an escape from life’s everyday stresses.

“Going to the gym lets me get away from everything,” Horne said. “I just put my earbuds in, and I’m in my own little world.”

It’s translated to the field, too, which is something Soules noticed this summer when the Bulldogs would go to 7-on-7 competitions at places with speedy athletes.

“All of a sudden Mason is catching deep balls against guys at Meridian High and other places who we know have fast guys, so we were pleasantly surprised that Mason can run fast,” Soules said. “He had a really good summer, and the season has turned out as good as possible for him so far.”

The added speed and physical strength has allowed Horne to trust himself more on the field.

“I definitely feel like all the work has paid off,” Horne said. “I feel better about myself and more confident to hit the holes knowing I’m one of the fastest guys on the field. It energizes me and pushes me.”

Being in better shape also makes Horne more energized in general, especially on game days.

“I honestly feel more excited than I’ve ever been,” Horne said. “When I wake up on Fridays now, I have butterflies, and I’ve never felt that way before.”

When he’s not getting tough yards on the ground or making plays at defensive back, Horne also serves as Clarkdale’s reliable punter and placekicker, an aspect Soules has appreciated for several years now.

“Inside of 40 yards we feel fairly confident that if the snap’s good and the hold is down he’s going to make the kick,” Soules said. “It makes play calling a little easier to know when you get inside the 30 you have a chance to score (at least three) and you don’t always have to go for it on fourth down. This team is really blessed to have him, and we’ve benefitted heavily from him.”

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