ANNA – Anna senior Kareem Mason put in the work and on Friday morning he enjoyed his reward before an enthusiastic crowd of teammates, friends, coaches and family in the Anna High School library. That’s where Mason inked his National Letter of Intent to play football and study at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. An Honorable Mention All-District cornerback last year in loaded District 7-4A(I), Mason achieved Academic All-State honors as well.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Mason, who’s also a sprinter on the track team. “I had to work to get here, but I’m glad I made it.” HSU made the official scholarship offer during Mason’s visit to campus on Feb. 1. The pluses that drew him there included, “just the environment there,” he said, “how the school looked, the people there, the coaching. There were a lot of big factors why I decided to go there.” He plans to study Exercise Science.

HSU’s NCAA Division III Cowboys compete in the American Southwest Conference. They last won the conference title in 2017 and are coming off their third-straight 9-2 campaign, with a trip to the playoffs each of those seasons.

As an added bonus, Mason now gets to face his brother Malik on the gridiron. A 2016 Anna graduate, Malik currently plays for East Texas Baptist University, a conference rival of HSU.

Thinking back on his Coyote days, Mason said, “The fun practices we had, the fun times doing one-on-ones — that’s what I’m going to miss the most.” While Mason played some offense for Anna, the vast majority of his snaps came at cornerback, the position he expects to play at HSU. Mason said he was close to all his Coyote teammates, but especially Emmonte Davis, Abner Dubar and Noah Palshaw.

A gigantic, white-frosted cake arrived with Mason’s parents, Ben and Marilyn Mason. “This day is really a testament to what happens when kids work hard, put in extra effort,” Ben said. “Both of my sons, Malike and Kareem, spent time here at Anna putting in extra work on the field, putting in extra work in the weight room. That stuff pays off. I’m glad to see that they’re rewarded for their efforts and that someone recognizes them as elite athletes. It kind of puts a stamp on all that hard work.”

Said Marilyn, “I’m really just happy for him and blessed that he got an offer at a very good school. We’re looking forward to all the football games. He’s also his brother’s rival so we’re looking forward to the ETBU/Hardin-Simmons football game this year.” Will they split time sitting on each side of the field? “I think I’m just going to stand up and cheer every time somebody makes a touchdown,” Marilyn laughed. “I’ll have ‘ETBU’ on the front [of my shirt] and ‘Hardin-Simmons’ on the back. Or I’ll be wearing both shirts.” She added, “I was impressed with the coach [at HSU]. I was impressed with how long they’ve been there, their dedication to their players, not walking away from them. And I was really impressed with the academics. I think in the ASC, Hardin-Simmons is the only school with 41 players that are All-Academic.”

“Kareem was always serious on the field,” Anna athletic director and head football coach Jason Heath said. “His demeanor was really good as far as what you want through practice, through games, the locker room, all that. He showed a very high level of maturity early on that you don’t see a whole lot. I think it helped affect his play on the field. He takes the classroom serious and I think that’s pushed from his parents.”

“He was a phenomenal corner for us, especially this year,” Coyotes defensive secondary coach Brandon Powell said. “He worked extremely hard after his junior season. Immediately after our [last] game, he was the only kid I saw in the weight room lifting, going to the field running, doing extra ladders, footwork stuff. … Senior year, it was no surprise he played as well as he did.

“We put him, really, on everybody’s No. 1 receiver. When we played Melissa, we put him on Kennedy Lewis the whole game. Even though Kennedy scored those two touchdowns, if you look at the film, Kareem guarded him better than any other guy in our district. It was impressive. … Then his interception at Argyle - it was probably one of the prettiest picks I’ve seen. It was taken away due to a penalty that wasn’t a penalty. That game, I think he had about four pass break-ups then the interception that was taken away.

“Hardin-Simmons is getting a really, really good corner that probably could’ve have played up, to be honest. I really think he could’ve been a really good Division II or Division I Double-A FBS corner. They’re getting a great kid that’s going to work hard.”