WIU Leathernecks honoring memory of fallen teammate

Hunter Mason played a major role in the Leathernecks’ success, both on and off the field. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

As Western Illinois football prepares for its home opener this week, the Leathernecks continue to honor former player Hunter Mason.

Mason passed away May 31 at age 22 due to complications from glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer. He was at his family home in Nevada, Mo., receiving treatment at the time.

Mason enrolled at Western Illinois in 2018 and graduated with a degree in Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration in three years and was pursuing a master’s degree in Sport Management at the time of his passing.

WIU recently announced the creation of the Hunter Mason Courage Award and Scholarship, which “will be presented to an upper-class student-athlete each spring who displays the characteristics and values embraced by Hunter: scholarship, community service, and most importantly, leadership through courage,” according to an athletic department release.

“I believe it is appropriate to share with our alumni, parents, and friends the establishment of this award and scholarship as Hunter would have been playing his senior season for the Leathernecks had this tragedy not occurred,” WIU director of athletics Paul A. Bubb said in the release.

The Leathernecks are also wearing a special helmet decal in remembrance of Mason this season. In addition, no player will wear No. 36 this fall, said Scott Holland, assistant athletic director for communications.

On June 1, a memorial tribute was placed in front of the north gate at Hanson Field. A short vigil was also held that evening.

WIU strength and conditioning coach Joe Minnis said, “The loss of Hunter is tragic and heartbreaking. For those who were fortunate enough to know Hunter, he was an incredible young man with an infectiously positive personality. We are extremely proud of Hunter and devastated by his passing.”

During his final weeks of life, Mason spent time with family and friends as well as his former WIU coaches and teammates, including former head coach Jared Elliott who is now an assistant at Ball State.

Mason was a three-time Missouri Valley Football Conference Academic Honor Roll selection, was twice named MVFC All-Academic Honorable Mention, and was a two-time recipient of the MVFC Commissioner’s Excellence List of Academic Excellence award.

Not only did Mason shine in the classroom but on the field as well, earning All-MVFC All Conference Honorable Mention at linebacker for his performance in the 2021 season. In his 29 games as a Leatherneck, Mason compiled 56 tackles, 13 for loss, nine quarterback sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

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