Sitting on the turf at Five Star Stadium after Saturday’s Mercer practice, Alex Avant talked about what it was like to be one of the original Bears.
There was no Five Star Stadium at that time. There was no nice big fieldhouse towering over one end zone of the stadium.
There was just a desire to build the Mercer program from the ground up, and beginning in 2012 with a practice season, Avant and the Bears have done that.
Now he is entering his senior season with the program.
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“I remember when we first came out here, there was nothing but dirt out here, and we had to change outside,” said Avant, a cornerback who has started all 24 games since the program returned in 2013. “And to look at what it is now; it’s crazy to see what it has turned into.”
Most of the Bears who made up the first team in 2012 are juniors, but Avant played one year at Tuskegee before joining the program so this year will be it for him. There haven’t been many seniors come through the young program, and he is one of three on this year’s roster.
Guard Wilson Heres played one year at the Air Force. He started all 12 games in 2013 and was limited to eight starts in 2014 while dealing with an injury. Darius Tenney is a reserve tight end.
That’s it for the Mercer class of 2016.
“Now, it’s my senior year, and it’s hard to believe because it’s just flown by,” Avant said. “I’m excited about it, and I’m looking forward to us doing some great things.”
Avant has done plenty of great things during his career and was named to the All-Southern Conference second team by the media in 2014. In 2013, his weaving return for a touchdown against Drake helped put the program on the map nationally and was named an ESPN “SportsCenter” Top 10 play. It also earned a helmet sticker from ESPN’s “College Football Final.”
Avant has recorded five interceptions with 106 tackles in his career and is looking for bigger and better things out of this year’s team. Mercer finished 10-2 in 2013 and 6-6 in 2014, including 1-6 in its first Southern Conference season.
“I think we can be really special,” Avant said. “We had a chance last year, but we just didn’t finish. This year, we can be even better with everybody coming back, and we have some new guys who are doing really well.
“Look back at the games last year, and we lost so many of them in the fourth quarter. We just want to turn those closes losses into some wins.”
Avant is one of the building blocks to that success, and head coach Bobby Lamb said he already sees a difference in this year’s team. That comes with added scholarships (from 38 to 53), an extra year of experience and more time spent with Jon Mangel and the Bears’ strength and conditioning staff.
“In particular, our offensive and defensive lines, you can see it,” Lamb said. “We’re much bigger and stronger there; our strength and conditioning staff did a great job this spring and summer. Having these guys here this offseason, having them here this summer was big because they all get to lift together and train together, and one guy will see another guy gain some bulk and say, ‘Man, I need to start doing that.’
“It becomes contagious, and that’s a neat thing about playing a team sport and building a team.”