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STAY STRONG 36: Nevada community rallies support for ailing former football star Hunter Mason

Matt Resnick


News of Hunter Mason’s life-threatening condition has delivered a sobering blow to the tight-knit community of Nevada, Missouri.  

A prototypical All-American kid, Mason graduated in 2018 atop his Nevada High class, ultimately inking an NCAA D1 football scholarship with the Western Illinois Leathernecks. 

With a bright future ahead, Mason’s world was abruptly turned upside down after a large mass was recently discovered on his frontal lobe. The diagnosis necessitated emergency brain surgery. 

Currently recovering from the extensive operation, Mason’s strong connection to Nevada has shown through, with an outpouring of support flowing from the small Southwest Missouri community. Many on social media have posted the catchphrase “Stay Strong 36,” symbolizing Mason and his jersey number. 

“I ask that you please take a minute of your time to pray for this young man, his doctors, and his family,” said Jerrod Alexander, one of Mason’s former Nevada High football coaches. “Hunter is a fantastic person.” 

Hunter Mason, center, is pictured with friends Matt Thompson and Braeden Hinton. Courtesy photo.

Nevadans Marcy Fischer and Alyson Harder announced that they were aiming to raise funds for Mason’s potential medical bills. 

“This gentle giant is in the biggest fight of his life,” Fischer said.

Fischer added that Mason is revered by the community, and that the impression he left won’t soon fade.

“We are so humbled by all that our hometown community, friends, and football family are doing for us,” said Mason’s mother, Carrie. “Hunter is still in the ICU, physically healing from the surgery. Lots of recovery is needed.”


Gridiron star 

Mason blossomed under the tutelage of Tigers head coach Wes Beachler, excelling his senior season at the tight end and linebacker positions. Beachler said he was most impressed by Mason’s positive attitude and tireless work ethic. 

“He understood what it took to be a good high school athlete and student,” Beachler said, pointing to Mason’s Academic All-State accolades. “He understood the big picture; how important academics, athletic ability, and focus were if he wanted to play at the next level and be successful in life.”

Beachler added that attention to detail was another of Mason’s greatest attributes. 

“To have a new coach come in your senior year and be moved from wide receiver to tight end in a new system — he was able to grasp the differences there,” Beachler said. 

Many prep athletes would have protested such a move, but not Mason. 

“He could have pitched a fit and been immature about being moved into tight end,” Beachler said. “But he embraced it, and that spoke volumes about the type of young man he is.”

Mason went on to post monster numbers at tight end, with Beachler calling Mason’s senior campaign “special.” 

“And it wasn’t that he just stood out on the football field, but also just the type of young man he was,” Beachler said. “His character and how he conducted himself off the field was pretty impressive too.” 



Getting the ball to Mason in the passing attack was best friend Braeden Hinton. 

“Hunter is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met in my life,” Hinton said. “He’s a D1 athlete and has held a 4.0 GPA throughout high school and college. He’s worked for everything he’s achieved.” 

Hinton, who compiled the most passing yards in a single season for Nevada in recent memory, said his rapport with Mason wasn’t just confined to the field of play. 

“It was also about the connection we had off the field; we would hang out almost every weekend,” Hinton said. “I truly do consider him one of my best friends.” 

Another of Mason’s closest friends, Matt Thompson, traveled with Hinton to Macomb, Illinois, in late October to watch their pal in action. Mason didn’t disappoint, racking up a pair of sacks and five tackles in the Leathernecks’ 38-31 rivalry victory over Illinois State. 

“Spending the weekend there and watching him play was a great experience,” Hinton said. 

Since receiving the distressing news of Mason’s diagnosis, Hinton has spent time in deep reflection. 

“The big question is ‘why?'” Hinton said. “I’ve been asking myself ‘why’ a lot lately. Like, why Hunter? And I don’t know if that’s a question we’ll ever get answered. But if I do know one thing, if I’m going to put my money on anybody to beat this, it’s Hunter.”

Thompson echoed Hinton’s sentiments. 

“Hunter’s a guy that would do anything for his friends,” Thompson said. “And that’s something that’s really special and hard to come by.”

Hunter Mason, left, poses with Matt Thompson and Braeden Hinton during a recent spring break trip to Arizona. Courtesy photo.

Thompson also warmly reflected on the trip to watch Mason play in Macomb. 

“He played awesome — had a sack to seal the victory,” Thompson said. “It was really special to see that moment.” 

Thompson said that the trio recently reunited for a spring break getaway to Scottsdale, Arizona. 

“We were just being ourselves the whole week,” Thompson said. “Now, here we are three weeks later, and everything is different.” 

Thompson said it’s been difficult attempting to fully process the gravity of the situation. 

“It’s made me realize how quickly life can change, and that we can’t take things like friendship for granted,” he said. 

Thompson’s camaraderie with Mason was also built on the basketball court, where Thompson was the second-leading scorer in Shaun Gray’s high-octane offense. Mason’s skill set on the hardwood did not match his dominance on the gridiron, but he still contributed as a key rotational player. 

“He was just selfless to come play with us, and be with his buddies,” Thompson said, noting that Mason could have easily chosen to focus solely on his football career.

“Hunter is the kind of kid every coach wants their players to be like,” Gray said, adding that Mason always placed the team before himself. “He’s an example you give to kids on what a four-year high school athlete should look like. He’s also a perfect example of being a part of something greater than yourself.”

Gray added that he was saddened by the news of Mason’s medical condition.

“It’s disheartening when you hear that someone you love and care about is going through that,” he said. “But when it’s a young guy with such a bright future and so much potential ahead of him, it’s a punch to the gut.”

Gray said he reached out to Mason with words of encouragement. 

“I told him that the Nevada community has his back,” Gray said. “He’s going to battle and be positive through the whole thing. And I think he will lean on his faith as well.”

Former teammate and star hoopster Clay Gayman reminisced on his playing days with Mason, calling him a great teammate.

“There was nobody that was more encouraging to me,” Gayman said. 

Gayman lightheartedly joked that Mason’s Achilles heel was layups, but that he more than made up for it with his alley-oop passes.

“When it came to lob passes, there was nobody better than Hunter Mason,” Gayman said. “Hunter was a joy to be around, great dude, and so much fun to have in the locker room.”


Matt Resnick is a reporter with The Chanute Tribune and can be reached at


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