Excitement is warranted around Mercer campus

dshirley@macon.comAugust 1, 2013 

MercerFootball

Mercer running back Payton Usher (25) runs a drill during the Bears' first practice Thursday afternoon.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com Buy Photo

There are going to be skeptics. But aren’t there always?

And I admit I was right there with them when it was announced that Mercer was starting a football program. Football is fine. But non-scholarship football?

Well, that’s a different story, and it just didn’t seem like a viable long-term option. But that was the plan when Mercer jumped into the game a couple of years ago and kicked off its program.

When Bobby Lamb was hired as the Bears’ head coach, that, along with my skepticism, changed quite a bit. Lamb is a legitimate college head coach, and it didn’t look like Mercer would be able to land a head coach of his caliber when the program began.

When Mercer hired Lamb, everything switched into another gear, and that took another huge step forward when the school announced this summer that it will join the Southern Conference next year and add scholarship football. As Lamb has said more than once since then, the Bears are “moving into a new tax bracket.”

That’s why all the excitement around the program and the Mercer campus, in general, is warranted. Yes, this season will be a non-scholarship year, but the Bears are building toward something bigger.

It might take a little while to get the program rolling as the Bears are going through a lot of changes in a short time: From no program at all to a non-scholarship program (while building a stadium) to moving to a scholarship program in a solid conference (yes it will take a step back, but even without Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the Southern Conference should be OK), that is a lot of transition to take on. The first few seasons are likely to be difficult, especially once the Bears move to the Southern Conference. But Lamb and his staff are building the program the right way.

That heated up Thursday with the team’s first practice of this preseason. There have been plenty of workouts and practices the past couple of years for the players and coaches, but there wasn’t really a tangible objective at the end of those, at least not one that seemed this close. But now the Bears are working with a specific date in mind: Aug. 31 for their opener against Reinhardt.

The players and coaches can point to that date and know that everything they do between now and then is focused on that contest. After a couple of years of waiting, Mercer is just like any other college program, working out and preparing for a game. The first game and first season are almost here, and that should energize the Mercer fan base.

The opener promises to be an exciting night with a packed house at a shiny new stadium, and there is plenty of anticipation for that day to arrive. That’s exactly the way it should be.

It’s not like Mercer will be competing with Georgia or Georgia Tech or even Georgia Southern or Georgia State, who are both moving up to the FBS level. But that doesn’t mean Mercer won’t eventually have a solid FCS program, and that’s better than sticking with a non-scholarship program.

Even the strongest skeptic will agree with that.

Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or dshirley@macon.com

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