Bryce Hayman knows a few things about his former head coach.
Phil Mason loves his dogs, he loves his wife, he loves his boat and he loves football.
In his third season at Michigan City, Mason was named the Colts/NFL Coach of the Week after helping the Wolves off to a 6-2 start — and also led the team to its second consecutive sectional and regional championships.
The Times' Coach of the Year — who also won the award in 2013 as the coach of Andrean — said his main goal has been to establish a winning culture at Michigan City. And through his first three campaigns, he appears to be keeping his word. Mason has posted a 26-11 record, but he refuses to take full credit for the Wolves’ accomplishments.
He considers their success — including a school-record 10 wins this past season — to be a collective effort.
“I can’t even express how great everyone is,” Mason said. “From my superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, athletic director and the community, they have all rallied around us so much. And I can’t say enough about my coaching staff either. These guys work their tails off, they’re extremely loyal. They’re just great guys.”
Michigan City’s record-setting season came to an end in the semistate title game against eventual IHSAA Class 5A state champion New Palestine. The Dragons defeated the Wolves 35-10, and in that contest Hayman threw a career-high four interceptions. Following the loss, Mason reminded every reporter who questioned Hayman’s performance of one thing: The senior was not the reason the Wolves lost but rather a big reason why they made it that far in the first place.
Hayman considers his performance one of the worst of his career, but the turnovers are not what he’ll remember most about his time as a football player. Instead when he looks back, his memories will be filled with the coach who defended him and took a chance on a player who has often been overlooked because of his size.
“It means a lot to have a coach like that, and he treats us like family,” said Hayman, who stands 5-foot-7. “If you have a family member that messes up and makes a bad mistake, you’re not going to put the blame all on him. It’s nice to have someone have your back like that.”
Hayman finished his first and only season as a starting quarterback with 2,101 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also totaled 462 rushing yards, nine scores and one fumble and helped Michigan City average a staggering 42.4 points per game. But for as productive as Hayman was through the air and on the ground, he also received a lot of help in the backfield after Mason took a chance on another player.
Lyric McFarrin was a starting defensive back for the Wolves, and according to Mason he was also one of the most versatile and physically gifted players on the team. And after opening the year 2-2 and scoring a season-low seven points in a loss to Valparaiso, Mason decided to implement McFarrin into Michigan City’s offense and start him at running back.
The following week, McFarrin rushed for 295 yards and four touchdowns in the Wolves’ 21-point win over Merrillville. The senior said the decision came as a bit of a surprise, but he was prepared because Mason makes sure all of his players know the team's strategy and schemes — on offense, defense and special teams — regardless of their position.
“Even before I did play offense, coach would make sure I knew what to do at slot and running back,” McFarrin said. “I had to know both of them. So when he made the switch, I just had to do it in the game. And coach having me prepared definitely helped a lot.”
In nine games at running back, McFarrin notched 130 carries for 1,356 yards, 23 touchdowns and one fumble. He also racked up 29 rushes for 126 yards and scored Michigan City’s only touchdown in its season-ending loss to New Palestine.
After the game, Hayman and McFarrin were two of the last Wolves players to leave the visiting locker room at Kelso Stadium. Mason joked about both players returning for another season, but added that the senior class’ departure is a bittersweet reminder of why he loves high school football.
When the next year comes around, he’ll have another opportunity to shape a group of athletes on the field and prepare them for life beyond it — just like his coaches and mentors did for him. And even though Mason considers himself to be ultra-competitive, that is what he believes truly matters.
“I will do everything to help them get to the next level,” Mason said. “But my job isn’t to create college football players. My job is to create better young men.”