(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives)
MERCER MUSTANGS 2020 FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
Head Coach: Jeff Lockard, 2nd year (4-5)
Last Year: 4-5 overall
Mercer High School's nickname is the "Mustangs," but for the football team this fall, "Colts" might be a more appropriate moniker. The Mustangs' 25-man roster features only three seniors, but that overall inexperience has not damped the spirits of the squad or second-year head coach Jeff Lockard.
"It has been fun so far," Lockard said of a preseason camp that has been altered due to the start of classes in the Mercer School District. "It has been more 'back to basics.' There has been a lot of teaching. We have a real young team, but we have a good core of leaders."
Mercer will feature seniors Aidan Bright, Ryan Winner and Austin Carothers this season. Bright is a returning starter at halfback and at linebacker. Winner played extensively at split end last year while Carothers is expected to see time at split end and in the secondary.
Bright, junior halfback Logan Turton and junior quarterback Ethan Wiley return in Mercer's offensive backfield. Bright led Mercer with 611 rushing yards last year. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and also led the Mustangs with 18 receptions and 399 receiving yards. Bright paced Mercer with 463 rushing yards as a sophomore in 2018.
Turton started at the other halfback spot in Mercer's Delaware Wing-T offense and ran for 232 yards. He also caught nine passes, which ranked second on the squad. Wiley played six games at quarterback and threw for 397 yards and five touchdowns.
Juniors Zack Swartz and Nathan Haines are battling for the starting fullback position, according to Lockard.
Mercer must replace four starters on the offensive line, however, as junior right tackle Colson Minshull is the lone returner. Junior Tristan Barr saw action at center and will take over as the starter this year. Juniors Ethan Downing and Mike Stabile, along with sophomore Jesse Watkins, have the inside track at the other three vacant spots. Junior Jake Badger, a converted running back, will start at tight end.
"We have no seniors up front," Lockard said. "The key is how we develop up front. If we develop them, I think we can be a very competitive team.
"We may come out in some different sets," Lockard continued, "but it comes back to the maturity of the offensive line."
After playing a five-man defensive front last season, Mercer has shifted to a 4-4 alignment due to depth concerns up front. Barr, Downing, Minshull, Stabile and Watkins will likely occupy the four starting spots, in some combination. At linebacker, Badger, Bright, Haines and Swartz are expected to start. Bright earned First Team All-Region at linebacker last season.
Turton and rangy 6-foot-3 junior Dominic Pugh will start at cornerback. Sophomore Troy Bachman and Carothers will compete for the free safety position.
Turton will kick. He earned Second Team All-Region in 2019.
"Our ultimate goal is to win games and qualify for the playoffs," Lockard said. "The players are working very hard to learn. They're always trying to do things better and that's a big tribute to them."
While the varsity roster numbers are lower than usual this year, Mercer does have 23 boys on its junior high team. "That's very exciting," Lockard said. "The program is moving forward and that's a big positive."
The 2020 Mustangs will compete in region play with Kennedy Catholic, Reynolds and West Middlesex. "I think everybody is in the same boat in 1A," Lockard said, regarding roster sizes. "Coach (Mark) Means has a tough team at West Middlesex. Reynolds has a great team this year. I think they could contend for a district title with the veterans that they have. Kennedy is a little bit of an unknown right now.
"We're happy we're playing football and it doesn't matter against who. We want our guys to seize the moment. We are going to keep teaching and keep moving forward."