Baltimore • Without helmets and pads, football prospects can’t really show how they wrap up. They can’t show how hard they hit. They can sprint across the field in a flash, but they’ll always leave questions of how fast they’ll run in pads.
But without a helmet, Osa Masina’s face reveals a surprising ease, even as his body is crouched and tense. Surrounded by a small army of unfamiliar analysts and coaches, he’s locked on Jacques Patrick, the top-rated running back standing right ahead of him.
The longer the two wait for the whistle, the wider Masina’s grin stretches across his face, and he even allows himself a Michael Jordan-like tongue waggle.
These are the moments he waits for — what all the build-up, all the sorting through mail, wading through interviews and texts are about in the end. The 16-year-old rising senior from Brighton is having one of the most demanding summers of any football recruit in the state, but it’s worth it when he can get on the field and hit somebody.
On a June afternoon, the sun beat down on more than 100 of the country’s best recruits at the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge. Though he may well be a defensive end a year from now, he ran with the linebackers, as tall as any of them and just as fast. One of Masina’s best plays of the day is going stride for stride with a running back, and leaping over him to intercept a pass.
“Athleticism, size, quickness, coverage instincts — he’s got all that,” Rivals analyst Mike Farrell said of the 6-foot-3, 230 pound Masina, who is ranked No. 58 nationally by the recruiting website.
But one of the best assets Masina has is nothing he shows on the field: It’s brothers who got recruited, and a mother who’s all business when it comes to “The Process.”
There’s a lot for a high school kid to handle. Osa’s calendar is riddled with dates for camps and visits, as well as the ACTs. In the basement that serves as a self-described “man cave” for him and his three brothers, he’s got a bookshelf packed solid with pounds of mail he’s received in less than a year: Teams such as UCLA, Stanford, Notre Dame and the hometown Utah Utes have their own separate volumes.
Tamina Masina, Osa’s single mother, opens up each piece of mail with scissors. The ones that look personal and thoughtful, she gives to Osa. After the first few hundred letters, they’ve gotten a knack for identifying the ones that are written by graduate assistants with coaches’ signatures at the bottom. But everything is dutifully filed in alphabetical order.
The whole family handles recruiting diligently. Osa’s older brothers, Uaea and Lo’i, both went to Utah (although Lo’i has now left the program) and feed him tips and advice on the field. Tamina tries to screen as many calls as possible, giving Osa the choice of who he wants to talk to and when as much as he can.
She paid her own way to Baltimore, tagging along on the plane and in the hotel, and watching.
“I enjoy the process; it’s tiring but fun,” Tamina said. “But there’s a lot to it, and it’s a big magnitude, life-changing deal. I try to give him time to let him be him.”
The Masinas have a strong feel for what Osa needs to do to meet his recruiting needs and what they’d rather deflect. He went to the Rivals camp, is going to All-Poly Camp this weekend in Layton and will be also attending The Opening in Oregon in a few weeks.
But he’s also playing some basketball this summer, a necessary escape for Osa as he continues to narrow down his list, now eight schools: Arizona State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and Wisconsin. He also is hiking and fishing when he can, or watching the World Cup when he has a break.
“It’s kind of crazy, all the attention, and it can get overwhelming,” he said. “You try to find the balance. Having my mom helps: She’s kind of like my agent.”
A decade ago, a prospect like Masina might’ve flown under the radar for a bit longer. But Utah is an increasingly open ground for out-of-state power programs, which comes at the same time as the recruiting media industry is booming. Rivals, for example, only began its national camp three years ago, but now has the corporate backing of Under Armour.
The process has become more complicated, as players hear from more coaches and come under greater scrutiny. A player with a strong team around him — his family, for example — is better off than others.
“Level-headed kids can benefit a lot from traveling to these camps and picking as much information up as they can,” Farrell said. “Osa has a couple brothers who have gone through this process — not to this level, but it helps — and he has a mother who is very involved, and that’s important. It helps.”
The end is in sight. A top five list of Masina’s schools is forthcoming, then perhaps a top three. A relaxed person by nature, he’s mostly ready to unload the burden of recruiting sooner rather than later. But he gets a kick out of showing what he can do on the field.
“Stuff like camps, I want to prove that I’m not all talk, that Utah really has some good players,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to think that you’re playing against the best in the country, and you can show what you can do.”
At many of his stops, he’s gotten gloves, bags, shoes and other perks that come with being one of the nation’s top football prospects. Many of those items have been given away to his friends, a piece of his recruitment that he’s OK with sharing with others.
To Tamina, that’s a sign that The Process hasn’t changed him too much.
“I just want him to stay humble and not get to ahead of himself,” she said. “He handles the pressure well. I think when he makes a decision, he’ll be solid.”
About Osa Masina
• No. 58 ranked on Rivals; No. 52 on Scout; No. 122 on ESPN
• 6-foot-3, 230-pound OLB/DE/TE prospect from Brighton
• Ran for 1,643 yards, 25 touchdowns as a RB last year; 87 tackles at linebacker
• Brother Uaea Masina plays for Utes