I'm pretty sure I wrote this column last year or at least something close to it.
And maybe the year before that, as well.
But this time I really mean it. The third time is the charm, after all, right?
Seriously, Mercer is ready to take the next step this year with its football program.
The Bears are entering their sixth season since the program's reboot in 2013, and they have made steady progress each season after coming out of the blocks with a 10-2 showing. That first year was played without scholarships as part of the Pioneer Football League, but Mercer quickly jumped to the Southern Conference, and that meant scholarships, after that season.
Bobby Lamb's program had a solid first season with scholarships in 2014 with a 6-6 record, including 1-6 in the conference. The next year, the Bears were 5-6 overall and 2-5 in the conference. In 2016, Mercer improved to 4-4 in the conference and was 6-5 overall, and last year, the Bears were 4-4 in the conference again with a 5-6 overall record.
Sure, those records don't jump out at you as dominant or outstanding, but there has been progress, for sure. There have been so many close games and so many close calls that have kept the Bears from reaching the FCS playoffs. It actually has been hard to believe, really.
But this is going to be the year. The Bears, who open their season Sept. 1 at Memphis and their conference season Sept. 15 at Samford, are going to break through and compete for a Southern Conference title. With that kind of season, Mercer will break through and earn a spot in the FCS playoffs.
Everything is in place for this program to make that kind of move. Lamb and his staff have recruited really well as the program has gotten on the same level with other FCS scholarship programs.
There is talent up and down the roster, and Lamb has a terrific staff around him to help those players improve. The offense starts with quarterback Kaelan Riley, who was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year last year and is going to get even better as he gains more experience, and there are plenty of weapons around him. And the defense is dynamic with plenty of speed and hard-hitters as that unit continues to improve.
Improvement is the key for the Mercer program, and this year there is going to be a big step forward in that area.
You may have read that before. But this year, it’s going to happen.