Coach (season, record): Pat McClearn (8th season, 50-28)
2011 overall record: 8-3
2011 region record (place): 6-1 (second)
2011 playoff results: Defeated Saegertown 48-20 in the District 10 Class A quarterfinals before losing to West Middlesex 44-34 in the semifinals.
Top players lost: Kyle Mariacher, R.J. Swartz, Joe Hess, Jordan McClearn, Brandon Little, Billy Selders, Miles Bennington, Aaron Collins, Alec Gawne
Top returning players: Nate Brest, Evan Nan, Austin Slagle, Luke Leonard, Zane O’Brien, Chase Hoffman
Assistant coaches: Ed Klutcher, Rob Swartz, Brian Phillips, Don King, Mike Sagulla, Rob Kennis, Rick Whenry, Tyler Cramer
Outlook: For the first time in a while, Mercer could have to rebuild this season. The Mustangs seem to always field a competitive team but they suffered massive graduation losses in the offseason. Kyle Mariacher, R.J. Swartz, Joe Hess, Jordan McClearn, Brandon Little, Billy Selders, Miles Bennington, Alec Gawne and Aaron Collins are leaving big holes for coach Pat McClearn to fill. Mariacher and Hess were 1,000-yard rushers for Mercer at one point in their careers. Mariacher ran for 2,314 yards and 33 touchdowns last year and is Mercer’s all-time rusher. He was named to the all-district team and vote to the all-region first team at running back. Hess, a first-team defensive lineman, ran for 1,000 yards as a junior and 752 yards and nine touchdowns last fall. Gawne threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 308 yards and five touchdowns. Selders, a first-team linebacker, ran for 167 yards and four touchdowns and was Mercer’s second-leading tackler with 81 tackles. The Mustangs will also be without McClearn, their leading receiver from 2011. He had 13 catches for 158 yards and Bennington, a first-team tight end, had eight catches for 118 yards. Collins was a first-team punter and R.J. Swartz, a first-team defensive lineman are gone. Swartz had 71 tackles, including five sacks, as a senior. The list of graduated players seems to go on and on and gives Mercer a lot of work to do in training camp.
The Mustangs have a few starters back this season to lean on. Nate Brest, Evan Nan, Austin Slagle, Luke Leonard, Zane O’Brien and Chase Hoffman should see significant playing time this fall. Brest was an all-region first-team offensive lineman last year and will be important to help along a young line, while Nan was a second-team linebacker last year. Nan will be in the quarterback competition along with Logan Clarke and Walter Haines. Hoffman brings back stability to the special teams as a second-team kicker and could be important for the Mustangs’ offense. Slagle had 10 carries for 71 yards last year and could see a major increase in carries this year. He also led Mercer with 103 tackles last fall.
Mercer will have lots of new faces this year as the Mustangs lost more than 20 seniors to graduation. The Mustangs open the season with two tough road games and could face an 0-2 record. Eisenhower will be better this year and is always tough at home and Sharpsville is the defending District 10 Class A champion. The toughest stretch could come in October when Mercer takes on Class AAA Conneaut, traditional power Farrell, rival Mercyhurst Prep and an interesting road game at Keystone. The Mustangs’ success this season could depend on how quickly their new players step in and come together as a team.
31 at Eisenhower 7
7 at Sharpsville* 7
14 Kennedy Catholic* 7
21 at Lakeview* 7
28 West Middlesex* 7
5 at Conneaut* 7
12 Mercyhurst Prep 7
19 at Keystone 7
26 Farrell* 7
2 at Reynolds 7
*Region 1 games
Sunday: Mercyhurst Prep
– Tom Reisenweber