Terra Nova High School quarterback Mason Mini participated in a summer football camp at the University of Idaho one week in July. Days later he knew he wanted to be a Vandal.
The Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division Back of the Year made the signing official on Dec. 21, National Signing Day, when he signed the Letter of Intent in front of his family and classmates in the Terra Nova gym.
Terra Nova Coach Jason Piccolotti welcomed everyone to the signing, saying, “This is a special moment for a special athlete. Mason came to Terra Nova as a skinny, tall kid his freshman year and has now developed into a Division 1 college athlete. His selection means a lot for his family and also for Terra Nova. His hard work has paid off for him.”
Mason, who turned 17 in November, becomes the first Terra Nova athlete since 1983 to be signed to a Division 1 college to play football. Tom Byrne, who also played quarterback for the school, played four years at the University of Notre Dame.
At the signing it was hard to tell whether Mason or his mother, Stacy, was more excited. Both his mother and father, Vince, are also graduates of Terra Nova. His brother, Vince, a 2018 Terra Nova graduate, played on the 2017 Central Coast Section runner-up football team.
“I’m super excited,” said Stacy, as she gathered with family in the gym. “The whole family has been watching him play, and this year to play quarterback, and now he’s going to play tight end for Idaho. He just loves the game. He has so much fun. He trains non-stop. He goes to the gym every night. When COVID started, he got a home gym at the house and works out all the time. We’re so happy for him.
“At the University of Idaho camp, he was named Most Valuable Player. And after that, the Idaho coaches stayed in touch with him,” she added. “A week later he was offered a full scholarship to the college. We felt like those coaches had so much interest in him. They contacted him every week. They saw clips of his playing. It felt like a great fit for him.”
Mason will be playing with another Pacifican at University of Idaho. Junipero Serra High School graduate Nathan Azzopardi is a sophomore on the Vandals team.
“Nathan was my host for my official visit. He showed me around the college,” said Mason.
“We are good friends with Nate’s family,” added Stacy. “I’ve been communicating with his mother about how they like it and what to expect.”
“A year ago, Mason was a wide receiver on the team,” said Piccolotti. “This season he was our quarterback. I’m not joking. At 6-4, 210 pounds, it would take two to three players to bring him down. He earns everything that is coming to him. As a coach, it’s just so emotional with what he did on the field. Everything worked out right for him. He’s a hard worker and one of the most dedicated athletes. He’s one of the most respectful kids you would want to meet. He has the mentality to play football.
“I think he is going to a great place with the University of Idaho,” added Piccolotti. “Their coaches called me after the camp and asked for his school transcripts and film of his playing. Right before our football season started, they offered the scholarship, and he committed. It’s a good fit for him.”
Of several options, Mason felt University of Idaso was the right college for him.
“Today is very exciting for me. It’s hard to believe, but I’m ready for the next four years of my life,” he said. “I had contacts with other schools, but Idaho was my No. 1 choice. The coaches showed me love.
“When I went to the camp they targeted me as a tight end. They saw me as somebody that could make an impact on the team,” said Mason, who grew up in Pacifica playing a variety of sports. “I didn’t have a serious thought about going to college, but once I started going to the camps, I knew I wanted to play football, and Idaho offers me the best opportunity to do so. I’m excited to be given this opportunity.
“I love sports,” said Mason, who currently is on the Terra Nova basketball team. “I played baseball, soccer, flag football. But when I got to Terra Nova as a freshman, I started playing tackle football. I loved it.”
Mason will head to University of Idaho after high school graduation to attend spring camp. While he played at 210 pounds this year, the coaches want him to get up to 220 pounds.
On Sept. 16, the Vandals will travel to Berkeley to play California. You can bet there will be a contingent of supporters for Mason attending that game.
Mason led Terra Nova to a 4-1 (8-3 overall) second-place Ocean Division finish. He scored nine touchdowns over the season. He was one of six players named to the Ocean Division All-League team.
“Mason was the leader of our offense and of the team as a whole,” stated Piccolotti. He was named Back of the Year.
Mason was joined by Frank Ward, Linebacker of the Year; Mateo Corona, Utility Player of the Year; Caleb Catalano, Defensive Lineman of the Year; Rocco Gentile, Wide Receiver of the Year; and Ronan Seargant, First Team Defensive Back.
Piccolotti praised the work of his athletes, saying, “Frank is a generational player who only comes along once in a great while; great commitment and work ethic. There is not a thing on the field Mateo can’t do. He was our running back, punter, kicker and starting linebacker. Caleb gives 100 percent effort on every play. Over the two-year period he turned into a great player for us.”
▸49ers honor Piccolotti: Piccolotti was honored earlier this year by the San Francisco 49ers. The organization recognized him as a Prep Coach of the Week.
This season, in his fourth year at Terra Nova, he led his team to a second-place finish in the Ocean Division and a berth in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Piccolotti was born and raised in Pacifica where he went to Oceana High School and played at the City College of San Francisco. He has always had a passion for the game of football especially as a star quarterback in high school and college. As he grew older, he got into coaching and realized that he wanted to change kids' lives in a positive way. In 2019, he took over as head coach for the Terra Nova football program.
As the 49ers PREP Charlie Wedemeyer Memorial Coach of the Week, Piccolotti received a $1,000 grant for the Terra Nova football program from the 49ers Foundation.
▸ Pacifica Sports Hall of Famer dies: The Pacifica community recently lost a good man and a sports hall of famer.
Angelo Gaggero, inducted into the Pacifica Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, died on Oct. 30. He had lived in Pacifica for 40 years where he was an active supporter of Bay Area Special Olympics. In 1976 Gaggero initiated a Pacifica Moose Lodge fundraiser for Special Olympics and was honored to be the chairman. More than $65,000 was raised in 12 years. Angelo was a 39-year member of the Pacifica Moose Lodge.
He was a dedicated volunteer. His first community service began in 1967 as a volunteer coach with the Pacifica Little League baseball program.
His love of sports took him from softball to football and he coached at various age levels including the Pacifica Dolphins. He also served as president of the Oceana High School Booster Club. From 1981-1985 he was a member of the Pacifica Parks, Beaches, and Recreation Commission.
Horace Hinshaw is Tribune sports editor emeritus.