Until Tuesday, the Mercer football program had lived a charmed life.
Last season, the Bears blew every expectation out of the water. The 10-win season was almost magical as Mercer just kept gaining momentum throughout its debut season.
The crash that some thought would inevitably happen at some point during the season? Never happened. Sure, there were two losses, but there was no shame in falling at San Diego or Marist, a pair of quality Pioneer Football League programs.
Moving to the Southern Conference just built the excitement for Mercer fans. Season tickets went quickly. Expectations rose for Mercer to field a competitive team -- not necessarily a title contender, but one that would record some wins and hang close in others -- as the Bears step up to a higher level of competition.
Those hopes took a significant hit Tuesday. Tosin Aguebor, the linebacker who is the heart of Mercer’s defense, broke his leg. He had surgery Wednesday, and he likely will be out for several weeks.
Injuries like those can change a team’s fortunes. Losing the team leader in sacks and tackles for loss is a serious blow. It’s almost as bad as losing the starting quarterback or leading rusher. It’s definitely a game-changer.
This is the first time Mercer has dealt with an injury this critical. Sure, players were hurt last season but not to this degree and definitely not after establishing the type of field presence Aguebor has.
Simply put, Mercer found itself on the wrong end of something that can happen to any team at any time. Injuries like Aguebor’s are purely random. You never know when they might pop up, but when they do, they cause teams to scramble.
Mercer is still a young team. The influx of scholarship players means the Bears are a work in progress. It’s always possible someone could step up and prove himself in the wake of Aguebor’s injury. Or Mercer simply might be too thin at that position, and the position becomes a weakness.
It’s a test that many teams have faced in the past. It’s a test that teams are never quite ready to deal with, and it’s sure a test that teams don’t want to deal with.
But now that the test has been assigned to Mercer, it will be interesting to see how head coach Bobby Lamb, defensive coordinator Mike Kolakowski and the defensive staff work to adjust to the situation.
The good news for Mercer is that Aguebor, like a good number of Mercer’s top players last season, is only a sophomore. If a quick recovery isn’t possible and he is lost for the season, he likely will be able to apply for a medical hardship and preserve the three years of eligibility he has remaining.
In the short term, however, the Bears have some work to do ... through no fault of their own.
Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org