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High School Football Player of the Week: Mason Gecowets saves Corona del Mar’s perfect season

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Mason Gecowets leads Corona del Mar into the CIF State Division 1-A championship game against San Mateo Serra on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

It figured that Mason Gecowets would play savior of sorts when Corona del Mar High’s football team needed one.

When the Sea Kings’ 2019 story is told over the years to come — capped they hope with a victory over San Mateo Serra in the CIF State Division 1-A title game — it will focus on the senior outside linebacker’s big moment.

And another moment, not nearly so celebratory, nearly 15 months earlier.

Gecowets made the big fourth-down stop at the goal line with 27 seconds to go to ensure a 14-7 victory over Oceanside in the Dec. 7 CIF State Southern California Regional Division 1-A final and send CdM (15-0) to Saturday’s state championship showdown with Serra (13-1) at Cerritos College at 4 p.m.

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He tracked Kavika Tua’s sweep left on fourth-and-goal from the Sea Kings’ four, leaping to turn away the Pirates’ star running back six inches shy of a touchdown. Gecowets’ performance included a team-best nine tackles, three of them solo.

“I’m not surprised [it was Gecowets],” Sea Kings coach Dan O’Shea said. “I think he made every big play against Grace Brethren [in a 56-28 win in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final two weeks ago] on third and fourth down. Every single time they needed to convert, Mason Gecowets made every play. It didn’t surprise me at all.

“Mason literally did his job. I’ll tell you what, it was exciting, but it took some years off all our lives.”

The Sea Kings will look to finish the season 16-0 with a win against San Mateo Serra (13-1) on Saturday in the CIF State Division 1-A title game at Cerritos College.

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Gecowets is, by 29 tackles, the Sea Kings’ leading tackler with 103. He is, O’Shea says, a “special” player, the kind of hitter who sends “the ballcarriers flying through the air,” with “natural instincts to avoid blocks and find the football,” uncommon speed and athleticism, and a fierce intelligence to quickly “grasp the intricacies of what we do” in great depth.

O’Shea thinks he’s a better human being.

“There’s a handful, seven or eight kids over my entire high school [coaching career, totaling 21 seasons] that I admire and can’t think more highly of as young men, and he’s one of them,” he said. “I’m not talking football. I’m just talking his humbleness, his genuine thoughtfulness and concern and care for other humans. His selflessness as a son. His work ethic. ... It doesn’t matter much to Mason to have accolades. He’s more focused on the team and being a loyal teammate than worrying about his stars or accolades.

“I have two young boys, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and Mason Gecowets is one of those kids that, like, man, I hope when my boys are of high school or middle school age, they can be half the man Mason Gecowets is at this age. He’s the most down-to-earth, sweet kid who works his butt off.”

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Corona del Mar’s Mason Gecowets trips up Los Alamitos’ Oscar Brown V in a Sunset League game on Nov. 1 at Newport Harbor High.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Gecowets, a 4.0 student, had seen time with the Sea Kings varsity as a sophomore and won a starting job at strong safety last year before his season was cut short by a horrific injury during a team drill in practice. He was leaping from a full sprint to intercept a ball when a teammate, also at full speed, hit Gecowets from the side with his helmet.

It burst Gecowets’ spleen.

“I could not breathe for a solid, like, 15 minutes,” he said. “And it was more pain that I’ve ever been with in my life.”

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He was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but avoided surgery to remove the spleen when his internal bleeding subsided. His doctor told him he might never play again. Gecowets wasn’t about to accept that.

“I love the sport too much to say goodbye to it,” he said. “It took about four months for the doctor to say if I really wanted to, I’d be able to play football again.”

He took part in spring drills and knew, when he experienced no pain on the first day of pads in summer, that he was back. O’Shea, who said losing Gecowets last year was a massive blow to the CdM defense — “and more than anything, we lost so much of our spirit and soul” — penciled him in at strong safety.

Then outside linebacker Luke Sullivan tore an ACL, his second such injury in three seasons, and Gecowets was moved closer to the line. The positions are quite similar, he quickly “started feeling at home,” and has been a signature piece of a talented defensive unit.

“I have two young boys, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and Mason Gecowets is one of those kids that, like, man, I hope when my boys are of high school or middle school age, they can be half the man Mason Gecowets is at this age. He’s the most down-to-earth, sweet kid who works his butt off.”
Dan O’Shea, Corona del Mar football coach

It hit a crescendo against Oceanside. The Sea Kings, clinging to a one-touchdown lead, had just repelled one red-zone drive with Chandler Fincher’s interception at the one. Quarterback Ethan Garbers fumbled on the next play, and the Pirates recovered on the three.

“We’d just stopped them, and I was thinking let’s just go do it again,” Gecowets said. “We have our offense’s back, and we weren’t going to let them get into the end zone.”

The Pirates took a loss and then threw incomplete on fourth down from the eight, but a pass-interference call gave them another try from the four. Tua took a handoff and sprinted around left end. Gecowets, who had stepped into the gap between the left guard and tackle, cut across the goal line in pursuit. Cornerback Ryder Haupt forced Tua to cut inside and sent him spiraling toward the end zone.

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They met right in front of the line, and Gecowets knocked him off target, sending him sprawling to the turf six inches short.

“He’s a very good running back, but I just wanted it so bad,” Gecowets said. “I wanted to win the game so bad, and my mindset was he’s not getting in.”

A year earlier, when it was still — officially, at least — uncertain he would play again, he saw something like this happening. Not the tackle, necessarily, more the Sea Kings making the big plays that matter, he included.

“I was doing nothing but looking forward to playing this season,” he said. “I had nothing but CIF and state championships on my mind. This is exactly where I wanted to be a year ago today.”

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Corona del Mar linebacker Mason Gecowets has made a team-best 103 tackles this season.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Mason Gecowets

Born: May 12, 2002

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Height: 6 feet 3

Weight: 189 pounds

Sport: Football

Year: Senior

Coach: Dan O’Shea

Favorite food: Cheeseburger

Favorite movie: “Hot Rod”

Favorite athletic moment: Making the last-minute tackle on Oceanside running back Kavika Tua at the goal line to send CdM into Saturday’s CIF State Division 1-A title game against Serra.

Week in review: Gecowets made a team-best nine tackles, three of them solo and the biggest a fourth-down stop on the goal line with 27 seconds to go, as CdM held on for a 14-7 victory over Oceanside on Dec. 7 at Newport Harbor to win the CIF State Southern California Regional Division 1-A title and advance to the Sea Kings’ first state final since winning the Division III crown six years ago.

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