‘I’m always smiling.’ Why this Millbrook football quarterback’s Fortune is looking up

The path Millbrook High’s Mason Fortune traveled the past season and a half seemed a familiar one for a prospect hoping to attract college football scholarship offers.

As a sophomore starter last season, he led Millbrook to an 11-2 record while throwing for 3,137 yards and 40 touchdowns, with only five interceptions. He was 192-of-292 passing for 241.3 per game and a .658 completion percentage.

His spring and summer months included the usual camp circuit stops for a North Carolina kid. He visited North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Elon and Davidson, among others.

And now that the 2022 season is well underway, Fortune is on pace to top 4,000 yards. Through Millbrook’s 5-0 start, he is 84-of-122 for 1,733 yards and 20 touchdowns with only two interceptions. He’s averaging 346.6 per game and 20.6 per completion with a .689 percentage.

However, recruiting websites such as Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN don’t list him with any offers. What gives? Maybe his height as a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has tempered interest.

He must be frustrated and confused, right?

Actually, no. Which may say more about his future than his numbers.

“I don’t let that discourage me at all,” said Fortune, taking a break from a midweek film session.

Millbrook’s title chase occupies his mind. The Wildcats have a bye this week before opening conference play with a heavyweight showdown at Heritage (5-0). Millbrook, ranked No. 3 in the Triangle Sweet 16, travels for a September 30 game at the No. 7-ranked Huskies.

Fortune is coming off a 496-yard performance as the Wildcats routed Sanderson, 58-10. The Spartans entered the game with a 3-1 record, but Fortune shredded them, completing 18-of-23 passes for six touchdowns without an interception.

“He has amazing arm strength,” said Jimmy Vereen, Millbrook’s interim head coach. “His best ball may be the deep ball, but he can throw the short and intermediate passes, too.”

In the Sanderson game, Millbrook’s Tennessee-bound wide receiver Nathan Leacock caught nine balls for 253 yards and three touchdowns and senior Ty Broughton four for 89 and two TDs. On Leacock’s 71-yard catch-and-run, he ran a slant pattern with a defender on his hip. Fortune led him with a pass that Leacock pulled in with fully extended arms.

“I can throw a guy open,” Fortune said. “If a defender is on him, I can lead him with a pass to run to it.”

But Fortune is more than a strong-armed kid who grew up playing youth sports as a quarterback and baseball pitcher. The coaching staff had enough confidence to alter their offensive signals this season. In 2021, plays were sent to the huddle. This season, offensive coordinator Hunter Jenks signals in plays.

Fortune reads Jenks’ call and then steps to the right side of his line of scrimmage to call out to his teammates. Then he steps over to his left side to continue communicating the call before settling into shotgun formation.

“I feel it’s an advantage,” Fortune said. “I think it gets us into our plays quicker. I’m able to get the team lined up and run the play.”

Although he’s a returning starter, the poise he displays gathering the call from the sideline and relaying it to his teammates belies his youth.

“He doesn’t get rattled too much,” Vereen said. “There something about him — his calmness. He’s a good leader.”

Fortune’s leadership extends to working his way up and down the sideline tapping teammates on the helmet or shoulder pads. His ever-present wide smile along with his mophead hairstyle look like a scene straight out of casting for a Patrick Mahomes State Farm commercial.

“I’m always smiling,” he said. “I have to be up and excited. The team follows my lead.”

His optimism and patience may finally be paying off. A day after he said he’s not discouraged by his lack of scholarships offers, he received an invitation from Wake Forest to attend Saturday’s key ACC game in Winston-Salem matching No. 4 Clemson (3-0) at No. 21 Wake Forest (3-0). Fortune tweeted out a message thanking the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest’s All-ACC quarterback is Sam Hartman. As a 6-1, 165-pound high school quarterback, he had limited offers coming out of Oceanside Collegiate in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

“I don’t see how height improves your play,” said Fortune, explaining he can read a defense as well or better than a taller quarterback.

Maybe he and Sam Hartman will have a chance to compare notes.