Three weeks before his team’s season opener, Mercer football head coach Bobby Lamb has targeted four freshmen who will avoid a redshirt this season.
On Monday, Lamb mentioned wide receiver Marquise Irvin, offensive lineman Mitch Mathes, defensive lineman Blake Jones and cornerback Stephen Houzah as four true freshmen who will play this season. There could be others, depending on what happens this week and in Saturday’s scrimmage, along with any injuries that pop up to affect the depth chart.
The Bears’ season opener is Sept. 5 at Austin Peay.
“They are the four we have identified right now,” Lamb said of the true freshmen he named. “We’ve still got some freshmen who are on the fence, and we’ve got to see how they perform in the scrimmage. Plus, it depends on what our depth is at each position.”
The Bears held a scrimmage this past weekend, and Lamb liked what he saw out of the 75-play workout. The Bears start classes Tuesday, so they will begin to narrow their focus to their season opener soon.
“The young men did an outstanding job, and we’ve had a great camp,” Lamb said. “The biggest difference in this camp and previous camps is we’ve got more leadership. We’re a bigger, stronger football team than we were last year because of the work in the weight room under Jon Mangel and our strength and conditioning staff.”
Lamb pointed to the added experience for this year’s team as a key to its success. This marks the fourth year -- and the third season -- since the program’s rebirth.
“They know what to expect at practice, and they know what to expect as far as preseason camp is concerned,” Lamb said of his more experienced players. “The thing that really helps out is now you have real leaders who have been around, and now the freshmen who have come in, they actually can fall in line and follow somebody.
“There’s a little bit more maturity on our football team compared with the last couple of years.”
The players can sense that, as well, and the older players are using that to help the younger players grow. Still, the freshmen could have key roles this season. Irvin, for example, is likely to take the spot vacated by JT Palmer, who has left the program to focus on law school.
“It’s extremely different,” said cornerback Alex Avant, one of the team’s three seniors. “We have more experience. We have talked all offseason with (defensive coordinator Mike Kolakowski) that you want to step up and be more of a leader and bring guys along and help the younger guys along.”