McALESTER — McAlester senior Mason Bumphus has always lived in McAlester. He started playing flag football in the fourth grade, and during the fall he’d spend every Friday night he could at Hook Eales Stadium watching the Buffaloes.
Chris Patterson, one of Bumphus’ cousins, played inside receiver for the Buffs and graduated a year before Bumphus got to McAlester High School. An inside receiver himself, Bumphus said he definitely took a move or two from his older cousin, who graduated in 2009.
“He was my idol,” Bumphus said of Patterson on Thursday. “That’s why I even wanted to play. You could say he was my inspiration to suit up.”
A product of McAlester’s public schools system, Bumphus played for the Jr. Buffs at Puterbaugh. His football career hit a major stumbling block at the end of his eight-grade football season, however, when he fractured four vertebrae while working out.
“I had to wear a back brace around for like six months,” Bumphus said.
“I almost didn’t come back and play football.”
Back injuries take a lot of time to rehab, and Bumphus’ cost him his entire freshman year. It’s a slow rehab process, too, with numerous “boring, little exercises,” as Bumphus called them, designed to increase strength and mobility a bit at a time.
“Freshman year, I had to film (games and practices), and that was probably the worst part, having to watch all my friends play and not being able to be out there with them,” Bumphus said.
Bumphus finished his rehab in time for sophomore year, when he made varsity. Always a two-way player but originally a safety, Bumphus moved to cornerback for his junior year.
“Safety is a lot more reads,” Bumphus said.
“You have a lot more responsibilities as a safety. Corner is more of ‘don’t let them get behind you.’”
Bumphus really started seeing playing time last year. His favorite memory came last year in Week 3, when the Buffs played at Claremore.
“It was late in the game, and it was like fourth-and-5, and Coach (Bryan) Pratt tells me to punt the ball,” Bumphus said. “Everybody on the punt team just says, ‘run it, we’ve got you.’ So I ran the ball, it ended up being like a 20-yard play, and we got to stay on the field.”
With his combination of receiving and punting skills, Bumphus helped the 2012 Buffs make the playoffs. Though Bumphus didn’t get too many passes in their first-round game against Collinsville, he caught seven for 92 yards and a touchdown in the quarter-finals against Deer Creek.
The 2012 Buffaloes didn’t pass very much, but the 2013 Buffaloes have added a solid passing game, of which Bumphus has become an integral part. Averaging 36.6 receiving yards per game, he’s caught at least one pass in each of the Buffs’ first five games, including a 60-yard touchdown reception in Week 3 against Claremore.
Bumphus credited his success to the accuracy of starting quarterback Dalton Wood.
“He’ll put it on me anywhere on the field,” Bumphus said of Wood. “I never have to worry about him trying to get me knocked out, because he always knows where I’m going.”
Despite his success this year, Bumphus acknowledged he’s dropped some passes that he should’ve caught. Those drops have tended to come early in the game, often on the first passing play in which he’s targeted, and usually Bumphus has been able to recover and catch everything else thrown his way.
“I just have to catch it now and make plays with it,” Bumphus said. “It’s just a lack of focus. I have to focus up, stop worrying so much about the things going on a round me and just focus on catching the ball.”
Bumphus’ regular season is already half over, and soon he’ll have to say good-bye to his many friends on the team, including best friend Jarome Smith. After graduating, Bumphus said he plans to get his emergency medical technician license at Kiamichi Technology Center in McAlester, then become a firefighter.
“My step-dad, he’s been a fireman for 17 years, and it just kind of seems like a job I’d like to do,” Bumphus said.
When he’s not playing football, Bumphus said he tries to spend as much time as he can with his 1-month-old daughter, Paisleigh Mae-Bumphus. Bumphus, 18, added that he wants to be a firefighter because if family obligations pull him away from McAlester, it’s a job that can transfer easily within the state.
Recovering from a major injury requires focus. Catching a football requires focus. Being a dad requires focus.
In rehabbing his back and becoming a standout receiver, Bumphus has shown he has the focus necessary to accomplish anything.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.