At the end of the 2018 season, Kel Johnson started the process to transfer out of Georgia Tech after four seasons as a Yellow Jacket.
He began looking at different schools and Mercer head coach Craig Gibson quickly took an interest in getting him to come down the road to Macon.
The pair already had a connection as Gibson’s son Tyler was an undergraduate assistant for the Jackets while Johnson was there.
“He was sorta shopping around as a free agent graduate school guy and so I gave him my cell. I wanted him. I really wanted him,” he said. “My son coached him for two years. I knew he was a great person.”
Johnson said he looked at Mercer as a program with a competitive reputation. He wanted that opportunity to play for a winner while also setting himself up medical school.
“Mercer was an obvious front runner for me just because the quality of the program that Mercer has and the reputation they have around here,” Johnson said “Looking back on it… I am so glad I made the decision I made. It was so clearly the right decision.”
Before Johnson could transfer into Mercer, he had to apply for a medical hardship waiver as he hurt his shoulder 15 games into his senior year at Georgia Tech.
He was granted the waiver and has taken full advantage of it, coming back healthy and providing a spark for the Bears offense. He leads the team with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs
“He is certainly a factor in that lineup,” Gibson said. “You can put him on Tech, Georgia, Florida State, Auburn, FAU, he is one of the best hitters in the country it doesn’t matter where he is.”
One of those hits was a 3-run homer against his former team. Johnson said getting the chance to play against them was a special moment for him.
“There were some emotions, seeing your old team come into town,” Johnson said. “It definitely evoked some emotion but then it turned into just another baseball game where you battle hard and try to win the game.”
The Bears would fall against Tech in both of those games but Johnson was a key factor in leading the Mercer team on some key winning streaks down the stretch to keep the season alive.
“As they say, we’ve peaked at the right time. We are ready to keep that rolling,” he said. “It has been a blast. It has been a great year here.”
For Johnson, his most memorable moment from the season was winning a conference title, something he didn’t get the chance to do at Georgia Tech.
“Throughout the year there has been some moments, big wins for the team and a variety of things,” he said, “but I definitely don’t think that beats winning your conference.”
On Friday, Johnson and Mercer will face off against a team he is very familiar: the University of Georgia. Johnson said he is excited for the chance to go against them again.
“I have played Georgia in the past. I am not a Georgia fan. I love beating Georgia,” Johnson said. “The same will go this weekend. I would love for us to go up there and beat Georgia.”
While Johnson has been a key piece on the field, Gibson said he is also a joy to coach and get to know off the field.
“First and foremost Kel is a great guy. Take baseball aside, Kel is going to be successful in life,” he said. “He is a very humble and modest, just a great teammate. We were very fortunate to get him here.”