5 Mercer Bears freshmen that could turn into football superstars

Since joining the Southern Conference, the Mercer Bears have made consistent strides in recruiting. This year’s class is no exception as it was ranked top of the SoCon by 247 sports.

Head football coach Bobby Lamb said they brought in a large class for the FCS level, as they landed over 20 recruits. Most teams averaging around 15 in the typical recruiting class.

“We’ve got some big-time freshmen coming in and we feel like they can help us this year,” Lamb said. “We will see who can play now and who can develop, but we feel good about our class.”

Here’s a look at some of the top players in the recruiting class and some who could be big-time difference makers over the next four years.

All of them may not get an opportunity to play this season. But when it is all said and done, each has a chance to leave Mercer as some of the best to ever suit up for the Bears.

Defensive end Richard Benton (Atlanta, Georgia)

This is the big fish that Mercer landed in their recruiting class. He was ranked as the top recruit in the entire Southern Conference and a top 10 recruit overall, according to Hero Sports FCS. He is a three-star recruit who had offers from programs like Georgia Southern and Georgia State.

The Bears struggled to get to the quarterback last season, recording only 12 sacks. But Benton could be the answer to Mercer’s pass-rushing problems.

After watching his tape from high school, you can see that he is able to beat his man on speed alone, but also has the power and finesse to get by when he can’t simply blow by his man. He is relentless in his pursuit of the ball carrier, as he fought through constant double teams. He also has the ability to force turnovers as he looking to strip the ball on any given tackle.

He is also someone who commands a double team which opens it up for his teammates to make plays.

The NFL could be within Benton’s grasp.

He has the motor and ability to stand out at the FCS level. He had over 15 offers to go play at the FBS level but chose Mercer instead.

Working with the new defensive line coach Jeremy Hawkins should also help Benton make a quick adjustment at the college level. Don’t be surprised to see him making an impact very early on his career.

Key high school stats:

  • 27 sacks including 14 as a junior
  • 78 tackles as a senior

Quarterback Dylan Fromm (Warner Robins, Georgia)

Those from the Middle Georgia area might already know who Dylan Fromm is or may have even seen him play at Warner Robins High School. His brother Jake is the starting quarterback at the University of Georgia and Tyler, Dylan’s twin, is heading to Auburn to play tight end.

Mercer didn’t land a consolation prize in Dylan by any means — this kid is the real deal. He has the heart of a winner and the intangibles to make plays when all hope is lost.

He was named Mr. Georgia by the Atlanta Touchdown Club for the most outstanding senior in the state.

His stats are eye-popping but it truly is the things that don’t show up on the stat sheets that make Dylan a special talent. The team got down early in the state title game to Bainbridge. For the first time in his career, he looked flustered as the pass rush was battering him from all direction. He staged an incredible second-half comeback that fell just short. He showed off his talent but also his leadership skills as he put his team in a position to win in the triple-overtime thriller

Fromm will not start right away; Robert Riddle is returning this season at quarterback. Fromm’s path to significant playing time could be blocked for the foreseeable future as Riddle is just a redshirt sophomore. Barring injuries to some of the guys in front of him, it’s possible he won’t see the field for a couple of seasons.

This isn’t the first time he has been in this situation: he only had two seasons as a starter in high school. He made the most of his time there as he led Warner Robins to a pair of state title appearances in each of those seasons.

The Bears are loaded at the quarterback position and are pretty much set for the next four years with guys like Riddle and Fromm on the roster.

Key high school stats:

  • 4,100 yards passing as a senior
  • 44 touchdowns as senior

Running back Brandon Marshall (Jacksonville, Florida)

Tiny but mighty is one way to describe Marshall. He stands at 5 feet 7 inches and weighs about 175, but he runs with purpose. He has the ability to be an elite back at the FCS level if he develops his vision as a ball carrier.

He was a three-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, and had offers from some of the top FCS teams in the country like North Dakota State (they’ve won 7 out of the last 8 National Championships at this level).

On tape, he shows a quick burst from the line, followed by the ability to make defenders miss in the second level of the defense and still has enough power to run over people.

He comes into a Mercer program that has always had at least one of the top backs in the conference like Alex Lakes, Tee Mitchell and incumbent starter Tyray Devezin. Marshall appears to be someone who can carry on that tradition of great runners.

While Devezin may have that starting role locked down, Mercer seems to have landed a good complimentary back in Marshall who could take over that lead role in the future.

Key high school stats:

  • 1,900 yards rushing his senior year
  • 24 touchdowns
  • all-time rushing leader at Raines High School
  • Won back-to-back state titles

Cornerback Joel Girtman (College Park, Georgia)

Girtman is a true ball-hawking corner who knows exactly where he needs to be in order to make a big play for his defense.

He is an impact defender out of Westlake High School where they won the region title during all four of Girtman’s years there. He came out of high school as a two-star recruit with interests from schools like Florida Atlantic and Wofford.

The biggest thing that pops out is that while he has the ability to be an above-average pass defender, he also is tremendous in run support.

Countless times during his high school career he recognized the run early in the play and used his speed to make the tackle near the line of scrimmage.

He also has great hands and makes acrobatic catches look easy for a defender. This could be a huge addition to a Mercer defense that had just six interceptions all of last season.

It is possible that he doesn’t see a lot of snaps right out of the gate as the Bears do bring back an experienced secondary with players like Malique Fleming, BJ Bohler, Eric Jackson and Harrison Poole leading the way. However, Girtman is a name to watch as he possesses a lot of potential as a play maker on the defensive side of the ball.

Tight End Pedro Rodriguez (Lake Mary, Florida)

He is a solid pass catcher but his ability after the catch is what makes him a special talent. He had interest from schools like the University of Miami and offers from schools like Florida A&M.

While he has the ability to create separation, he is exceptional at making catches in traffic. He does a good job working his way back to the football when the play breaks down.

The difference with Rodriguez is that he turns those check down passes into touchdowns. He is able to turn up the field and use his vision to find creases to exploit after the catch.

Mercer has nicknamed itself “Tight End U” for their ability to recruit high-quality tight end prospects and Rodriguez looks like another hit for the Bears.

Mercer has quite a few guys at the tight end position who will graduate after the season which could open up some playing time for Rodriguez.

Key high school stats:

  • 58 catches as a senior
  • 700 yards receiving as a senior
  • five touchdowns as a senior
Justin Baxley is the fan life reporter at The Telegraph and writes stories centered around entertainment, food and sports in the Macon community. Justin joined the Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2017 with a degree in criminal justice and journalism. During his time at Mercer he served as the sports editor for The Cluster.