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Benefield: Santa Rosa High football newbie Mason Frost has a debut to remember

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Santa Rosa High football coach Russell Ponce remembers the day Mason Frost first got his attention. I mean, really got his attention.

He had noticed the then-junior baseball player had started showing up to football workouts and then to classroom sessions. He also noticed that Frost never said too much, just got his work done and was on his way.

Then, on a day the team was scheduled to do some conditioning, rain prompted someone to suggest that the guys play basketball as their aerobic workout instead. Ponce agreed. And that is when, standing in the Santa Rosa High gym watching his team play hoops, Ponce officially took note of Frost in that “Oh my word, who is this guy?” kind of way.

“I think the kid can touch the rim with his elbow,” he said of the 5-foot, 11-inch Frost. “I have never seen an athlete, that I’ve coached, like that in my life.

“I’ve been salivating over this kid ever since,” he said.

He had good reason.

Frost is the guy who, in his first year ever of football — his fifth game ever, in fact — ran for more than 400 yards and scored six touchdowns, including the game-winning 25-yard scamper, to seal the Panthers’ overtime win Friday against El Molino. The Panthers had 479 yards of rushing against the Lions Friday night and Frost had 439 of them.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Frost said when asked to describe Friday night. “After that third touchdown I was way out of it, I was like, ‘I can’t even believe this is happening. I’m just going to keep this rolling.’”

So even with those unheard-of stats, even when his number was called and called again, and even when every person on the field, or in the stands for that matter, knew it was Frost who would get the ball in the Panthers’ first possession of overtime, he still found a block, broke through a hole and ran for a touchdown.

“We did our part, he did his part,” tight end PJ Toleafoa said of an offensive line that worked their tails off all night. “(El Molino) knew that we ran the same play over and over again — they were calling it out on the field — but they had to get through us to get to Mason.”

And getting to Mason is no easy feat.

“They have to be fast, that’s all I gotta say,” Frost said.

Ponce laughed when I asked whether he thought about trying to throw El Molino off the scent and go to another back in that first overtime possession.

“When a kid had 400 yards, you give it to him again,” he said. Good point. Frost ran it 25 yards for the score and for the Panthers’ 50-44 win. It moved the Panthers to 2-5 overall and 1-0 in the North Bay League-Redwood Division.

But Ponce took pains to say that El Molino went after Frost the same way he would have. The stars were simply aligned for the kid.

He had 27 carries. His longest on the night was 87 yards, but he had a couple of those. His average gain was 16 yards.

“Believe me, El Mo tackled him plenty of times,” he said. “(El Molino coach) Randy (Parmeter) is one of the best coaches in the entire area. All coaches know that. He’s a tremendous coach. They were doing what I would do to stop him.”

But Frost, a newbie to the game of football, was gifted some holes by the blockers and timing his runs like a well-seasoned veteran, Toleafoa said.

“He watches. He stays behind the pullers,” he said “Whatever side he knows no defenders are there, he’ll maneuver his way through it as fast as he can.

“Once he gets through, he’s gone. No one could catch him,” he said.

Frost has emerged for the Panthers in part out of necessity.

Santa Rosa’s senior quarterback Trevor Anderson was having a heck of a start, throwing for 1,297 yards through five games and connecting on more than 50% of his passes. Then he broke his hand. Against Franklin High on Sept. 27 and again against El Molino on Friday, the Panthers went from throw-first offense to a team that is very clearly run first.

And that means Frost.

And because, according to Ponce, the Panthers’ defense could not find a way to stop El Molino and their junior quarterback Weston Lewis, the Panthers didn’t have the luxury of shutting down their running back even when the numbers started to look gaudy. Instead, they had to keep going back to the well. Again and again and again.

“You’d never expect to have numbers that you had,” Ponce said. “Usually, if you have those kinds of numbers … you can get a big lead and just run out the clock. We had to keep running.”

And as long as the line created cracks for Frost to find, he kept going.

“The offensive line and backs were doing their job, making that hole big and I started running through that,” he said.

The Panthers host crosstown rivals Montgomery on Friday night and Frost is no longer a secret. It may present the biggest test of his very young football career.

When I asked Frost whether he regretted not going out for football sooner, he said no. He loves baseball. It’s his first love, after all. He’s a utility guy who plays third base and catcher for the Panthers. He hit .339 as a junior in a season that was shortened when he took a pitch to the face and broke his eye socket.

But with all of that athleticism at his disposal and a confirmation that at 5 feet, 11 inches, he can indeed dunk, the next logical question is, will he give basketball a go for the Panthers just like he did with football?

He shakes his head with a smile.

“It cuts into baseball season, so …”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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