Growing pains should probably be expected in 2022 for the Mercer Mustangs. After graduating 13 seniors from a squad that suffered a 19-7 loss to Maplewood in the District 10 playoffs, the County Seaters have 13 players combined in their upper two classes entering the 2022 season.
“We’re going to be young,” said head coach Jeff Lockard, who is 10-16 at Mercer. “The young kids worked real hard throughout the summer and so far through heat (acclimation week), so we’re pretty excited about that.
“Looking through our roster, I think we have eight seniors and two of them are new to football, but the next level down played a lot for us last year. When you start adding that together, it’s not like we’re raw, raw.
“We have some freshmen and sophomores that have really developed, so we’re gonna have some good competition in camp. I’m expecting a lot out of this group, because competition brings out the best in everyone and I think it’s going to make the kids better.”
With four letterwinners returning on the offensive line and a first-year starter at quarterback, Lockard is expecting to be more run heavy this fall after averaging over 10 passes a game in 2021.
“We’re going to be a little more run heavy,” he said. “(2021 graduate) Ethan Wiley could wing it and is going to Grove City College, so we tried to put him a position to be successful. We’re going to bring back some things we were doing two or three years ago.
“The key for us this year is going to be how we as coaches manage the game if that makes sense. We’re still developing a little bit, so we’ll have to be the game managers. I think we as a team an take a step forward.”
Lockard plans on converting senior Nate Haines from running back to quarterback this fall. The rising senior picked up 90 yards and two scores on 29 totes a year ago.
“Nate was one of our running backs last year and we’re going to move him to quarterback,” Lockard said. “He’s a great kid, a smart kid. He’s a great athlete and he’ll have big shoes to fill. He’s accepted the challenge, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from Nate.”
Lockard is expecting senior Donnie Palmer, juniors Carter Addison, Daemyin Mattocks and Nic Michael to compete for carries, while senior Troy Baughman is the lone returning experienced receiver.
“We’re going to be OK there, because we have some good athletes,” Lockard said. “There are some young guys that could see some playing time if we can get them ready to go. It might be a committee there at first until we can get things going.”
Up front, seniors Jake Burk and Jesse Watkins and juniors Caden Guiler and Seth Sturgin will occupy four of the five starting spots, while freshmen C.J. Hartman and Derrick King are vying for playing time. Senior Trevon Miller is expected to see time at tight end.
“What I like about them is they’re all mobile and they all have good size,” Lockard said. “Most of them were in the weight room all summers. We’re not going to have a bunch of 300 pounders, but we’ll have 200 pounders that can move, so that’s nice.”
Defensively, the several of the Mustangs’ starters on the offensive line will be pulling double duty and will see time along the defensive front wall, while Addison, Burk, Michael and Palmer are expected to hold down the linebacking duties.
Baughman and Mattocks are currently penciled in as starters in the Mercer secondary with young players competing for the other starting spots.
“We’re changing our defense around a little bit,” Lockard said. “We have some better than average athletes, so we’re going to try to get more speed on the field than what we’ve had in the past. We’ve been teaching more angles and tackling this year because we felt one step made a difference and we’re working a lot on that end of things.”
With perennial powers Farrell, Sharpsville and Wilmington leaving the region during the new realignment cycle, Crawford County’s 1A schools Cambridge Springs, Cochranton, Maplewood and Saegertown will join up with Mercer, Reynolds, Kennedy Catholic and Lakeview in the new Region 1.
“I just want to be competitive and our schedule does help us some,” Lockard said. “We’re going to play with teams that we can compete with. The region we’re in now is all 1A schools and that’s a benefit.
“People may say our schedule got easier (with the departures), but we’re still playing good teams. The other thing is we don’t know a lot about some of those teams, because we haven’t played them in a couple years or they have new coaches, so you don’t know what they’re going to do. That’s going to make it a challenge.”
–––––– MERCER SCHEDULE Aug. 26 - at Iroquois;
Sept. 2 - Reynolds*; 9 - Wilmington; 16 - at Saegertown*; 23 - Cochranton*; 30 - at Maplewood*; Oct. 8 - Kennedy Catholic*; 14 - Lakeview*; 21 - at Cambridge Springs*; 28 - at Mercyhurst Prep. (-denotes Region 1 game).
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