Mason Laramie capped a record-setting comeback with a game-winning field goal as Western Illinois clipped Youngstown State last fall. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)
During the height of the pandemic, Mason Laramie was about as far away from football as he could be.
The Schaumburg native had left school at the University of Sioux Falls despite being the football team’s kicker and second-leading scorer following the 2018 season.
“As a Division II athlete, I was always thinking that I wanted to play Division I. I spent about two years in Sioux Falls, S.D. and then I dropped out of school. I wasn’t taking any courses. I was just working a full-time job,” Laramie told Prairie State Pigskin recently.
“I went back to Chicago and worked for this company called Peloton. I delivered and installed bikes in people’s homes. I got sent on routes throughout the city and different parts of Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana.
“Being a fitness science major and having some background in the fitness industry, this was a job that was right up my alley. I enjoyed it because I got to mature during that time. (But) I showed up to the same gas station every morning, filled up my truck and thought to myself, ‘What am I doing not playing football?’”
Fast forward to today where the 6-foot-1 graduate student focuses on his professional future and getting a shot at kicking the longest field goal in Western Illinois University history.
Get to know WIU kicker Mason Laramie and his story in Prairie State Pigskin’s Moving the Chains Q&A.
What were your dreams and aspirations back in high school?
Looking back, it’s a lot different than it is now. I did want to play at the college level, but I never thought of taking it to the Division I level. I wound up going to a Division II level school (Sioux Falls) out of the opportunities I had at my school (Schaumburg High School). As a kicker I joined my football team sophomore year. As a junior and senior I didn’t get many field goal attempts, so I didn’t have much to back myself up (in the recruiting process).
Were you surprised at how Peloton took off nationally?
During the pandemic the company blew up. They were looking for more workers. They were looking for people with fitness experience and in the field. They wanted people who were comfortable talking and presenting to buyers.
For me, Peloton was a ‘welcome to the adult working world’ experience. I was the youngest person working for the company. Everybody else had a wife and kids, and there I was at 21 years old. It was an experience that I won’t forget.
It was also humbling. I kind of just had to accept where I was for the time being and take everything with a grain of salt.
How did you get back into football, and how did you end up at Western Illinois?
I went to a (kicking) showcase in Florida and everything changed after that. I started receiving scholarship offers from bigger schools, but when Western reached out to me they gave me an opportunity I couldn’t resist. They gave me the chance to play there and get my schooling under scholarship. And that’s something that I didn’t have before. I can’t say that I had a scholarship at my old school (Sioux Falls).
How did you make the decision to attend the kicking showcase?
When I was out of school my recruiting coach, his name is Luke Radke with Kohl’s Kicking, said, “Hey, this is an invitation and an opportunity I want to give you to possibly play football again. There will be a bunch of guys like you and the competition will determine if you receive some offers. If you don’t do well, you might as well give up football.”
That showcase was my last opportunity. It took place in Jan. 2020. I prepared myself, went down there in the warm weather and performed. That changed the trajectory of my life. I got my confidence back again. I got back on my feet. There were people saying things back in Sioux Falls that I didn’t like. They were calling me a quitter and worse.
(Former WIU head) Coach (Jared) Elliott gave me an opportunity to do what I love and live my dream. The thing that is very prevalent between Coach Elliott and Coach Myers Hendrickson and me is that there is a lot of mutual respect.
Whatever Coach Elliott promised he would do for me, he did for me. He stuck to his word, and I appreciated that. Coach Myers has done the same so far, which I also appreciate.
What specifically did you do to get back to being a confident and productive kicker?
Every time I went to the field I would record myself kicking and I would make minor adjustments based on what the film looked like. I would take two of my best kicks and two of my worst kicks and see what the comparison was.
With kicking there are thousands of little details that you can focus on to get yourself better. Things like the steps you take, your approach, your ball contact, your leg swing, your flexibility . . . I worked on all those aspects to improve my kicking game.
I continued to do weight training and I was always stretching. I also reached out to some of my coaches at Kohl’s Kicking to get their input.
What have you improved the most with your kicking?
My confidence. You can tell a lot about people by their body language. Are they nervous before they go kick? Are they swinging their arms around? Are their eyes wide open? You can see that timidness and that nervousness. I had to give myself mental cues. I had to remind myself what my purpose was. I had to think about my “why”.
I also had to accept that if I missed, I couldn’t get frustrated. I couldn’t let that affect my next performance. I had to learn to let things go and move on. You can’t expect or think that bad things will happen. You have to go out there with confidence and crush the ball. That’s how you’re going to be the most successful.
What are your most memorable kicks since you’ve been at WIU?
There are three. The one that I hold very close to me is my first kick. It’s emotional for me. It was a 45-yarder on Hanson Field. I absolutely crushed the ball, and it was right down the middle. It was right before halftime. There was so much excitement. For me, it was my welcome to Division I football moment.
Another came at Youngstown State (in 2021). It was my first game-winning kick. It was the biggest comeback in Missouri Valley history. We came back from a 35-7 deficit (to win 38-35).
The third came at Hanson Field with a super strong wind that was coming directly at me. That’s a challenge, but I hit the ball really well. You just have to trust your swing in that moment. It’s one of my favorite kicks because if I would have changed anything in my approach, I probably wouldn’t have made it. I took pride in trusting myself in that situation and making the kick.
What are your goals going forward once you’re done at Western?
I plan on playing professional football. I don’t have an ear for anyone who says that an FCS player can’t do that. Whatever it is that you have in your mind that you can do, I firmly believe you can do.
One day I’d like to own my own gym. I have experience in the fitness industry. It’s something that I love; it doesn’t get old for me. When it comes to training athletes or talking about correct form or just helping people, that’s something I take pride in.
As for my current season goals, it’s to break the (WIU) longest field goal record. I hit from 53 yards out against Illinois State in the spring season (2021) and that’s only three yards from the record (of 56 yards, jointly held by Mike Scifres and Taylor Rowan). I know there will probably be an opportunity that comes up this season where I get the opportunity to break that.