Friday, November 26, 1999

Beechwood's Mercer here, there, everywhere

Enquirer contributor

Beechwood's Matt Mercer has a grip on Bellevue's James Delaney.
(Jeff Swinger photos)
| ZOOM |
        When one thinks of multiple-position, multiple-sport stars, chances are Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson come to mind. Linemen likely don't. But consider Beechwood's Matt Mercer.

        The 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior has spent his career playing just about everywhere on the Tiger offensive and defensive lines, as well as tight end and blocking back, and making appearances in the offensive backfield.

        “I pretty much know what to do all over the line,” says Mercer, who leads Beechwood against Pikeville in tonight's Class A state semifinal at Beechwood. “When I line up in the backfield, it's usually in the Power-I. I'm there just mainly to block.”

        When the football season is over, he'll play center in basketball, where last season he averaged 11.8 points and eight rebounds per game and led Northern Kentucky with a .692 field-goal percentage.

        In the spring, he'll gravitate to baseball. He batted .375 with five home runs as a first baseman and designated hitter last season.

        Right now, though, Mercer is focusing on football, and helping 11-2 Beechwood return to the championship game. The Tigers have won six Class A state titles in the 1990s.

        Mercer, named before the season by the Lexington Herald-Leader as one of Kentucky's Top 50 High School Players, has spent much of the season working on his pass-blocking footwork with assistant coaches Max Montoya — a former NFL Pro Bowl player for the Bengals and Oakland Raiders — and Bob Burnett. A switch from left tackle to right tackle forced him to adjust his footwork, he said.

        “I came into the season pretty confident,” Mercer said. “My run-blocking game was OK, but I needed work on my pass blocking. I'm still not satisfied. All of the footwork was completely opposite of what I had been doing, but it's worked out pretty good for me.”

        He has also enjoyed his occasional forays both at tight end and in the backfield. In Beechwood's 35-0 beating of Bellevue in last Friday's regional championship game, it was Mercer's switch from defensive tackle to defensive end that allowed the Tigers to keep Bellevue hemmed in on the narrow side of the field. Bellevue coach Charles Coleman called Mercer's effort a key to Beechwood's win.

        “Being moved out to defensive end allowed me to rush the passer more,” he said. “It allowed me to make more plays. I saw the Bellevue coach's comments in the paper, and that made me feel good about how I played, but it was really the whole defense that shut down the wide side.”

        Beechwood coach Mike Yeagle saw Mercer play the Bellevue game with an intensity he believed was missing for most of the season.

        “He played with a purpose,” Yeagle said. “He played his best game of the year. He's just playing with more enthusiasm now.”

        Mercer has narrowed his college choices to Alabama, Miami University, the University of Cincinnati, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky. He has planned December visits to the latter two schools, but he would only pick one if he could play two sports, he said.

        His immediate plan is to milk his last days of high school for all they are worth.

        “If I had a wish, it would be that high school football would never end,” he said. “It's the best. You just go out and have fun on Friday night. In college, it's fun, but it's more like a business.

        “It's getting close to reality now.”


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