Bearstock saw many changes this year, and it was met with some skepticism. But, many are singing the praises of this years event. “I thought I was going to hate the move to Hawkin’s arena,” junior Meghan Veuleman said. “Overall, it was my favorite Bearstock that I have been to.” Quadworks puts on the annual event with this year seeing a split between venues. The day band portion was held at Tattnall Square Park and drew crowds from Macon and Mercer.[related title="Related Stories" stories="21507" align="right" background="on" border="none" shadow="off"] A local favorite Hindsight got people off their blankets and up to the stage to interact with the band. The group of guys from Macon were excited to be able to play the event for the first time. As the day portion wound down, lines began to form outside of the University Center for the headliners Waka Flocka Flame and DJ Mustard. But Quadworks made an announcement that Mustard’s flight from Miami was cancelled and that he would not be able to make. “DJ Mustard’s flight from Delta Airlines was cancelled on Saturday morning from Miami, and he was unable to make it to the show,” Quadworks president Nate Flowers said. “Because of that we had to try and scramble and find another artist to fill the time.” Insert superstar hip hop artist B.o.B. The Decatur, Georgia native, Bobby Ray Simmons Jr. was announced as the replacement for DJ Mustard, despite being in Mississippi for a concert earlier in the day. Quadworks middle agent Babco Entertainment was able to set everything up for B.o.B to perform that night. He was able to catch a private charter airplane to the Macon airport in time to go on at 11:15 p.m. “I commend Quadworks for getting B.o.B on such short notice,” sophomore Royce Clark said. Flowers says that logistically the cancellation and quick turnaround to find a new artist was a nightmare but that they were dedicated to making it happen for the students. Many students were able to enjoy Bearstock whether it was their first time or they were a veteran to the event. “It was amazing. It was my first one, and I can honestly say it was the best experience I've had here in my two years at Mercer,” sophomore Darrell Dunham said. “I can't wait for next year's event." While some were here for the first time, everyone was having to adjust to the new format. The switch in format came after a rise in crime at last year’s Bearstock, according to Quadworks officials. While the announcement wasn’t received well by everyone, some students said they felt more comfortable being inside the friendly confines of Hawkins arena. “I prefered having the headliners in Hawkins because it seemed safer for students so we can enjoy the music more,” Clark said. “If you prefer to sit back and enjoy the music, you could do that as well in the stadium seats.” While this year's Bearstock was a success, Quadworks is already busy analyzing how it can be improved for next year. “One of the things we have considered is the daytime portion may have lost some of its numbers toward the end because we opened doors for the evening portion early just to try to get people in the door so we may consider pushing that time back or changing up the format just a little bit.” Flowers said. Overall, the feedback on Bearstock seems to be that it is moving in a positive direction, Flowers said. "I absolutely loved Bearstock. I went last year, and had a great time, but this year's event was on a whole other level,” sophomore Edward Bridgewater said. “You could clearly tell that everyone was loving it. I cannot wait to see how Quadworks tops itself next year."
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Every team needs a guy who meshes well with everyone. A guy who doesn't care about the individual accolades or own success as long as the team comes out on top. For the Mercer Bears, that guy is Desmond Ringer. Ringer is averaging 7.2 points a game and 5.1 rebounds a game for his career. Those numbers don't scream superstar and Ringer is ok with that. “I just feel like I'm the glue guy,” he said in a recording of the Cluster’s Podcast, Inside the Den. “I just want to win.” Ringer was recruited by Mercer out of high school but chose the University of South Carolina where he played one season for the Gamecocks. He struggled to find his way into the rotation only averaging 10 mins per game. At the end of the season Ringer made the decision to transfer to Mercer where he sat out a season to comply with NCAA eligibility rules. Ringer finally took the court last season and played in 23 games for the Bears, averaging a modest 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds. But it wasn't the first time he had played in front of Mercer coach Bob Hoffman. [video credit="" align="right"][/video] Every year Ringer’s high school team competed in a tournament at Mercer. In his senior year, “the glue guy” came a bit unglued in front of his future college coach. “I caught the ball in the middle of the paint, I took one dribble and exploded to the rim,” Ringer said. “As I exploded to the rim, my stomach exploded too. On the way down I realized I kinda boo booed on myself.” Ringer ran from the court to the bathroom in the middle of the game. He said that his team played 4-on-5 for a bit while he was in the bathroom. Lucky for Ringer, he had already been offered a scholarship to play at Mercer before that game. This earned him the nickname “boo boo boy” from his group of high school teammates. Having been recruited by Mercer in high school, he had already developed a relationship with the coaches. This was part of why Ringer chose Mercer when he was looking to transfer — he says could have easily picked to go anywhere, but he chose Mercer and says he is happy with his decision. “I could be anywhere averaging however many points I wanted to, but I want to be here with these guys with these coaches.” He said. This year the team added eight new players and chemistry was an issue early in the season as the team looked to mesh. Ringer has taken on the role of the leader inside the locker room and even his teammates agree he has been the glue that has held them together through a tough season. “He is always keep us spirited, always picking us up,” Demetre Rivers said. “He has a big voice and affects us all in a big way.” While Ringer has expanded his role as a leader he is also constantly working to expand his role on the court. He says “I am working on my craft.” “I am trying to expand my jump shot to 15 feet. I can always shoot it, but just getting more comfortable shooting in the game,” Ringer said. “I dropped like 15 to 20 pounds from last year and came in this year in great shape.” In the best basketball shape of his life, Ringer hopes that he can leave Mercer with a legacy that will be left in the rafters of Hawkins Arena. “I want them to be able to see a banner up there. If they can see a banner then that's going to speak for itself,” Ringer said. “You will be able to see all the hard work going into that banner and know that I was a part of it.” For more on Ringer and other Mercer athletes check out the Inside the Den Podcast from The Cluster.
The Cluster's sports podcast, Inside the Den, is scheduled to record weekly on our Facebook Live. Hayes Rule and Justin Baxley host the show that will feature interviews with Mercer student athletes. Learn more about Mercer's athletes off the field/court by watching the podcast live each week and participating by asking questions! The show plans to record Mondays at 8 p.m.
As smoke billows out of the grill, a line of hungry bears begins to form. Armed with a spatula and an apron with the name “Bear Grills” on it, Senior Justin Furness flips burgers to buns for over 200 rabid Mercer fans. Furness joined the Maniacs before the first football game in 2013. One of his friends thought that it would be fun to go paint up after hearing about it at Bear Fair, the annual event for clubs to showcase their activities to new students. The pair went to the first game and painted up. While his friend did not come back after that first game, Furness never left. After a few games, the Maniacs were left without someone to man their grill. Furness stepped up and volunteered. Much like joining the Maniacs, Furness practically never left. “It was a little intimidating at first,” Furness said. “It didn’t really take long, though, because I got to meet a lot of really nice people.” When Furness first became the grillmaster, two things were missing: his nickname, and a grill that would stay lit. The nickname was more of a fluke than anything, said Furness. “They were making an apron and were like, ‘of course we have to have a bear pun,’ and that was right when the Bear Grylls survivor guy TV show was really popular,” He said. “I put on the apron, and the name just kinda stuck with me as grillmaster.” The next step in the process was getting a new grill. The first grill that Furness used wasn’t one he was particularly fond of. “The first grill was terrible. It was falling apart. If the wind blew the flame went out. You had to have it sitting just right and the flame was inconsistent so it made it hard to cook on,” He said, “I couldn’t be at one event, and someone else had to cook on it. I came back the next week, and they told me I was never allowed to leave again.” After the first season ended they began working on getting a new grill. They came to Furness and asked for suggestions. He laid out the specifications for his dream grill. “I underlined it on the list and said ‘this is the one that would make me happy’,” He said. “I never heard another word about it. Like, ‘Alright, we are going to get a grill. We will let you know.’” Furness showed up at the first game preparing to cook his hamburgers on the old grill. To his surprise, a new one was in its place — and not just any new grill. “There was the exact one I wanted, and I was ecstatic,” Furness said. “I really still am. I love that grill.” The new grill allows him to cook his magic number of 200 hamburgers and a “bunch” of hotdogs at each home tailgate. It cooks evenly and hits temperatures over 800 degrees in under a minute. This allows him to cook fresh burgers and interact more with the tailgaters he’s serving. Over the course of his four-year run as the Maniacs grillmaster, Furness has developed a relationship with the community. He even has set of regular customers. “I really try to make a connection with people. I see people around campus and they will ask how I am doing and how they can’t wait for the tailgate,” Furness said. “Everyone loves the free food.” One of those regular customers could be considered a Mercer celebrity. “President Underwood stops by our tailgate from time to time to get one of Justin’s famous burgers,” Mercer Maniacs President Jane Gibson said. “Our tailgate would definitely not be nearly as good as it is now without him [Furness].” Furness added, “President Underwood keeps coming back, so I guess he likes them.” He is not looking forward to leaving the grill behind after graduation, and while the Maniacs already have a successor to the Bear Grills name in mind, Furness is not ready to give up his apron just yet. “I may cry a little bit the last time I grill on it,” he said. “If it was up to me, we would have a game every weekend and tailgate from 8 til game time and then tailgate after the game.”
After a bye week and two road games, the Mercer Bears found comfort inside of Five Star Stadium as they moved to 3-3 on the season with a win over the Western Carolina Catamounts (1-5) after a strong second half. The Bears and Catamounts traded punts and missed field goals for much of the first half before Cole Fisher hit a 37-yard field goal to put Mercer up 3-0. But the Bears were unable to keep the Catamounts out of the end zone as they scored on a hook and lateral with seven seconds left in the first half. The Catamounts momentum carried over to the second half as they went up 14-3 on a 2-yard run by Connell Young. John Russ and the offense was finally able to get going on the next drive as they answered back with a touchdown of their own. Russ delivered a pass to Sam Walker from 19 yards out for the touchdown. The play ended up leading to a major momentum shift in the game, as Russ was hit after he threw the pass leading to a roughing the passer call. The penalty was assessed on the kickoff, and Mercer took advantage as the kick coverage team forced a fumble giving the Bears the ball back at the 4-yard line. Alex Lakes was able to convert on the next play for a touchdown. Following the two quick strikes, the Catamounts lined up for a pass and LaMarkus Bailey jumped the route and tipped the ball up to himself. The interception set up a touchdown from Russ to Marquise Irvin. Western Carolina tried to mount a comeback but each time Mercer would answer with a score of their own. The game ended when Lendell Arnold intercepted the ball on third and long. STARS OF THE GAME: LaMarkus Bailey: He was all over the field in the game. He had a key fumble recovery on the muffed kickoff and an interception on the next drive that turned a Mercer deficit into a 24-14 lead. Chandler Curtis: Curtis has only gotten the chance to play in a handful of games over the last two seasons due to a series of injuries. When Curtis is the lineup, he is hands down Mercer’s best playmaker. The Bears got him involved in a variety of ways as he got a carry, four catches and returned punts and kickoffs. Curtis looked to be back in his role as the all-around playmaker. Alex Lakes: Lakes racked up 112 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Lakes seemed more explosive in the game and hit the hole much harder than he has all season. He could use this game as a springboard to get back in form after struggling for much of the season. STATS THAT POP: Defense responds: After not forcing a single turnover last week against Chattanooga and allowing a season-high 52 points, the Bears defense came out with swagger. They forced five turnovers and made crucial stops all game. Timekeeper: The Bears dominated time of possession as they held the ball for 36 minutes of the game compared to just 23 minutes for the Catamounts. THREE TAKEAWAYS: (1) Bouncing back: The Bears were dismantled at the hands of Chattanooga. The offense struggled to get going and the defense couldn’t stop the Mocs. It was important for the Bears to bounce back this week, and they responded. This shows that the Bears will not break after a tough game. It also marks the first SoCon win by double digits. (2) Still in the playoff race: The Bears still have an outside shot to make the FCS playoffs. Chattanooga suffered their first loss against the Citadel this week and with Mercer’s win over a conference opponent they are moving up the standings. The Bears will probably need to win out. (3) Full-powered offense: The Bears seemed to finally have all their weapons back and when that happens they are scary good. With guys like Avery Ward, Curtis and Irvin on the outside, it is hard to double cover anyone. The Bears also have a slew of solid tight ends led by Sam Walker that can make an impact down the seam. Add that with Lakes, Payton Usher and C.J Kleckley running the ball and the offense is hard to stop. It also can’t be stated enough how much John Russ and center Kirby Southard mean to the team at the QB and Center spots. BEAR BITES: Lamb on being back home: “The atmosphere was great. What a great night to play football and what a great fanbase we got.” Lamb on Alex Lakes: “Alex has been beat up all year but he is a tough son of a gun. He looked like the old Alex today.” LaMarkus Bailey on the offense converting on turnovers: “They always have our back and they converted on those turnovers. It really made us feel like a cohesive unit.” Chandler Curtis on his chemistry with Russ: “I always go back to my freshman year. We just always clicked and on the same page. At the next game, we are going to click even more.” Chandler Curtis on the wide receiver group: “I know if one of us is locked down then we can always go on to the next one. It’s a team effort and I am just glad I got them as teammates.” John Russ on Sam Walker’s diving catch: “It was an amazing catch and I am glad I have got him on my team.”
In Spain, they have El Clasico. In England, they have the Manchester Derby. At Mercer, there’s a new soccer rivalry taking off between two teams with mutual friends and lots of smack talk. Kanye2020 and American Toast Mafia are on a collision course to meet for the third time this season. This time, they’ll meet in co-rec intramural soccer playoffs. The first match ended in a 4-3 win for American Toast Mafia aided by an own goal by Kanye2020. “In all of the chaos, we ended up kicking it our own goal and that’s how American Toast Mafia won that game,” said Justis Ward, a member of Kanye2020. “It was not like they blew us out of the water.” The second time around the two teams fought to a 3-3 draw. Ward said he is confident that if they square off again in the playoffs there is only one logical outcome. “We lost the first one, we drew the second one and so all that can happen is to win the third one,” Ward said. “I hope they are ready because we have experienced our heartbreak.” Brittany Mueller of American Toast Mafia is also geared up for the rematch against Ward and company. While the chance at an Intramural title and a new t-shirt is something both teams want, this rivalry is all about the chance to talk trash after the win. “We have all known each other — a lot of people are seniors — we are trying to go basically for bragging rights,” Mueller said. “Winning for the shirt is nothing compared to trying to win this rivalry.” The teams have many mutual friends and have been playing intramural sports for now four years together. The chance to compete against friends is often times more fun that being on the same team, one of the few things the two rivals agreed on. “You feel more comfortable smack talking. Of course, if we were playing a bunch of strangers smack talking they might dock us on the sportsmanship rating.” Ward said. “When you have a group full of friends, everyone is laughing, but at the same time we are kind of serious because we are very competitive.” While individuals on each team have played against each other throughout the four years, this is the first time this particular combination of players have formed two teams, which sparked the inevitable rivalry between the two.[pullquote speaker="Brittany Mueller, American Toast Mafia" photo="" align="right" background="on" border="none" shadow="off"]I only play with trash talk especially if it's someone like, say, Justis or Sam [Dunton]. I greet them with trash talk.[/pullquote] “I think that we have always talked smack with each other and we have never really had two teams come together in order for the rivalry to happen,” Mueller said. “I only play with trash talk especially if it's someone like, say, Justis or Sam [Dunton]. I greet them with trash talk.” As the rivalry began to stew, even naming the teams became a game of one-upmanship for Ward. The goal was to try and make their name stand out more than “American Toast Mafia.” “So we were all trying to think of a unique name and we don’t like less-than-unique names, so when your rival is American Toast Mafia — something that is super unique — we had to one-up them,” Ward said. “Kanye announced that he would run for president in 2020, so that’s where we got the name.” While they are named after the rapper’s potential White House bid, Ward says this is not an endorsement and would only vote for Kanye if the other candidate was worse. With the selection of Kanye2020, they believe they have already won at least one game over American Toast Mafia — the name game. Mueller’s team got their name after a split from the original team that she had been a part of over the last few seasons, the French Toast Mafia. When the team split, they wanted to make sure they played under a similar name and settled on an American version of the breakfast favorite. “Since there was too many people on the team, we had to go our separate ways,” Mueller said. “So we thought, ‘Instead of French Toast Mafia, why don’t we call it American Toast Mafia because we live in America.’” Regardless how co-rec soccer ultimately plays out, this rivalry is far from over, as the two teams could potentially square off in other sports down the line. “If she were to play something co-rec and I were to play something co-rec and our teams ended up being around the same people, there is a very high possibility that this rivalry will continue,” Ward said. Mueller encourages people to come out and watch all the intramural playoff games as well the championship game that will take place on Oct. 4 on Black Field. “This night is honestly for everyone,” Mueller said. “Watch American Toast Mafia kick some butt and take home the championship and the t-shirt, because we're really the main event here.”
The Mercer Bears notched their first win of the season with a victory over Tennessee Tech 34-27 . The Bears improve to 1-2 on the season heading into the bye week. Tennessee Tech falls to 1-2 on the season following the loss. The game did not start well for the Bears as Dontez Byrd returned the opening kickoff 100 yards. The Bears would answer with a field goal by Cole Fisher and take the lead late in first half on a John Russ touchdown. The Bears trailed heading into the half down 14-10 as Tennessee Tech scored with less than a minute left in the half. The second half started slow for the Bears as they fell behind 21-10 before coming back to take the lead on back to back touchdown tosses from Russ to tight end Sam Walker. The game took a massive swing when the officials called an incomplete pass a catch and fumble after the ball hit Walker in his back. Tennessee Tech recovered the called fumble and returned it for a touchdown. They took the lead 27-24. The Bears would not allow another score. Russ notched his second rushing touchdown of the game and Fisher hit a school record 49 yard field goal to put the game out of reach. Zach Jackson stripped the The Golden Eagles quarterback Micha Birdsong to stop the Golden Eagles on their last drive. STARS OF THE GAME: Zach Jackson: If the Bears are going to win a football game then you can bet that Zach Jackson will have his fingerprints all over it. Jackson has been the key factor in the Bears last three wins dating back to last season. His interceptions against Chattanooga and Furman sealed victories last season for the Bears. He continued the trend on Saturday as he forced the fumble that sealed the game. Sam Walker: The Bears rely heavily on their tight ends to make plays and, against the Golden Eagles, none came up bigger than Walker. Walker had a couple touchdown grabs that put the Bears on top in the third quarter. For one of those, Walker jumped above multiple defenders to bring down the ball. John Russ: It feels like Russ is a star of the game every week. In this edition he just threw for 259 yards on 23 completions with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Russ also found the endzone twice with his legs. He now has six career games with two rushing touchdowns. He has already has two such games this season. STATS THAT POP: Turnover battle: The Bears won the turnover battle 4-1 but,really, if not for the phantom fumble call, the Bears would have finished with no turnovers. The Bears forced three fumbles and had one interception. The Bears have a +3 turnover margin on the season and, if not for the missed call, would have gone back to back games without one. Kicking into the record book: Cole Fisher drilled a 49 yard field goal, a new school record, to extend the Bears lead in the fourth quarter. Fisher also hit a 42 yard field goal earlier in the game. The Bears kicker is now six for seven on the season and is perfect from beyond 40 yards as he has nailed 3 from that distance. His only miss was a block against Georgia Tech. THREE TAKEAWAYS: (1) Finding a way to close games Since joining the Southern Conference, the Bears have been haunted by close losses both in and out of conference. Last season, the Bears dropped a close game to this same Tennessee Tech team. This year they would not be denied. The Bears found a way to finish the drill despite there being some adversity throughout the game. The Bears overcame the odds to win this game and hopefully have turned a corner in these close games. (2) Spreading the wealth around John Russ hit six different guys and will (hopefully) be getting back key wideout Chandler Curtis soon. His ability to get the ball in the hands of different guys on the offense keeps the opponent on their toes. It helps that the once the ball is in their hands they are making plays. Robert Brown had one catch on the day but it went for 45 yards on a long run after the grab. (3) Overcoming the slow start The Bears had the ball for just eight minutes in the first half. They struggled to get anything going on offense and the defense looked tired by the end of the second quarter. The Bears eventually flipped the switch and put on a much better show in the second half. The Bears will take the bye week to address some of these issues and will hopefully be able to get off to a better start against VMI. BEAR BITES: Lamb on flipping the switch: “ We weren’t playing very good. They were outplaying us. They had us behind the eight ball coming into halftime and I was not a happy camper. It was not a happy locker room but the kids got the message and I couldn’t be more proud of them. ” Lamb on Cole Fisher: “Cole Fisher, I can’t say enough about him. What was it a 49 yarder and he knocks it right through there. What a weapon he is to have.” Lamb on blocked PAT after the controversial call: “That was big. It just showed that we weren’t going to lay down. Like I said, that play ignited our team, obviously everyone saw it up on the jumbotron, it ignited our team. Even that block even though we didn’t run it back, it ignited our team to take the ball and drive it and get a score.” Lamb on close games: “Coca-Cola needs to send me some money cause we are selling Coca-Cola's like crazy in the fourth quarter. We are keeping everybody here with these close games. So if you haven’t been to Five Star Stadium come on out cause it’s going to be a nice football game.” Sam Walker on getting the win after a tough loss: “It was huge. It was a must win. You know we were coming in 0-2. We lost to two good football teams but that’s no excuse. Zach Jackson on making big plays: “It means a lot just to go out there and make a big play just to help the team win it just so happened to be the last play.” John Russ on running for scores: “It feels good to have my ankle healthy this year. I feel pretty quick out there.”
The Mercer Bears have started the season 0-2 after a heartbreaking one point loss to conference rival The Citadel and a 35-10 loss to FBS opponent Georgia Tech. The Bears will look to notch a W in the win column as they take on the Golden Eagles from Tennessee Tech. Here are three things to watch for in the matchup. 1.Converting in the red zone A year ago the Bears lost 29-22 on the road to Tennessee Tech. Part of the reason for that loss was the inability to get the ball in the endzone. They were forced to settle for four field goals. Three of Jagger Lieb’s field goals were from inside 26 yard line. The Bears outgained and for much of the game, dominated the Golden Eagles. Had those field goals been touchdowns, it would have been a blow out the way the stat sheet suggests it should have been. 2.Where are the Bears confidence after an 0-2 start? The Bears have played solid football for both games this season, but they are still sitting at 0-2. It makes one wonder how confident are they heading into the third game of the season. It's hard to call a non-conference game a must win, but at this point the Bears need a win to right the ship before a tough conference schedule start. It will be interesting to see if they can remain confident in the midst of an 0-2 start. 3. The chalkboard material Early this week, Marcus Satterfield, the Tennessee Tech head coach, gave the Bears some chalkboard material -- something for Coach Lamb and company to put up to motivate the guys. “We’re going to throw body blows for four quarters.” Satterfield said. This type of talk could get the Bears fired up to throw haymakers for four quarters. A year ago, body blows are what beat the Bears. Despite the Bears dominating in every aspect of the game but the final score, the Golden Eagles were able to chip away at the Bears for four quarters and grab a win. The Bears still have a sour taste from last year's loss and this quote will just be added motivation for them to come out swinging on both sides of the ball.
Mercer’s trip up Interstate 75 did not end in a victory as it dropped its outing against in-state opponent the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 35-10. The Bears fall to 0-2 on the season while Georgia Tech remains undefeated. For a short time in the first quarter the Bears held a touchdown lead. But the Jackets tied the game at 7-7, and from that point on the Jackets dominated the outing. Georgia Tech scored 21 unanswered points before Mercer kicked a field goal midway through the third quarter. The Bears would fight back late as they forced a fumble with seven minutes left in the game, but it was too late to stage a comeback. The turning point in the game was a run off a fake punt by Georgia Tech in the third quarter. The Jackets lined up to punt, but the snap went directly to one of the upbacks, who took the ball 21 yards; they capped the drive with a touchdown. Georgia Tech went up 28-10 and never looked back. STARS OF THE GAME: John Russ: The veteran quarterback started the game with an impressive drive, going 6-of-7 for 70 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Avery Ward. He did not play as well the rest of the game as the Bears did not take many shots down the field. Russ finished with 225 yards on 24-of-38 passing. He also added 24 yards on the ground. Tripp Patterson: The senior linebacker led the Bears in tackles and did his best to contain the triple-option attack. His nine tackles was a game high for either team. Justin Thomas: The Georgia Tech quarterback did not play the full game as he mysteriously left the game in the second half, but the first half was an impressive showing. Thomas went 5-of-10 for 80 yards through the air and tacked on 69 yards on the ground with a touchdown. Thomas paced the offense for the Jackets, leading them in rushing during the time he was on the field. Qua Searcy: The Jackets’ leading rusher for the game, Searcy carried the ball seven times for 91 yards. While he did not find the end zone, he was able to keep multiple drives alive with long runs. Searcy was a force all game out of the backfield. STATS THAT POP A tale of two styles: The Yellow Jackets were paced by their rushing attack, as they went for 364 yards on the ground and just 80 through the air. The Bears had 235 yards through the air and only 85 on the ground. Irvin's breakout season underway: Marquise Irvin, the sophomore wide receiver, hauled in seven catches against the Ramblin’ Wreck to pair with eight catches in Week 1 against The Citadel. Irvin had 15 catches all of last season. He has matched his total from last year in just two games and could be on his way to having a breakout season. THREE TAKEAWAYS (1) The Bears can compete with anyone Mercer was outmatched on paper in almost every way. Very few people gave the Bears a chance to even compete in this game -- including myself with a 56-13 prediction -- but the Bears showed what they were made of. This game was still in doubt for the Jackets well into the second half of the game. The Bears were not an easy win as many had predicted. They even held the lead over the Jackets at one point. (2) John Russ has the heart of a champion This has been a tough week for Russ as he lost his grandfather earlier this week. On Saturday, Russ came out firing and put up one of his best games of his career at Mercer. Russ has been a constant for this team as he and center Kirby Southard have started every game since the program restarted in 2013. He is the heart of the football team and the unquestioned leader. Fans should appreciate Russ as his senior season wears on. (3) Time to get in a routine The Bears will not have to deal with the triple-option attack they have faced the first two weeks of the season. After The Citadel pounded the ball in Week 1 and Georgia Tech did much of the same in Week 2, the Bears get to play a “normal offense” next week. After a Thursday night game and an FBS opponent, the Bears can now get into a real routine facing FCS teams on Saturdays. This will be a welcome sign after starting 0-2. BEAR BITES Lamb on the first drive: “I was extremely happy with our first drive. I feel like we worked all week, and we’ve got a script of eight plays, and for the most part we held to the script and John made a fabulous throw across his body.” Lamb on the speed of Georgia Tech: “We got outflanked several times, especially right before the half. They run the same play out of the triple option on the pitch to the edge, and we just weren't there. But I was happy with our effort.” Lamb on the sea of orange: “I can't say enough about our administration, our fans, our Mercer Maniacs, the band, the cheerleaders, everybody that was here. It was a sea of orange down there in that corner.” Russ on his throw to Avery Ward: “I knew I was gonna have faith in my guy Avery. I knew something good was gonna happen. You know my grandfather passed away this week on Tuesday, so I felt like he helped me out a little bit on that play.” Tyler Ward on the support from the crowd: “It's unreal. It was awesome not only for what the students do but the whole town of Macon.”
The Bears are set to take on their first FBS team since the program restarted in 2013. A battle for Interstate 75 is set up for Saturday as they take on in-state power Georgia Tech. Here are three things to watch if the Bears hope to pull out a historic upset. 1. Jet lag versus extra rest. While Georgia Tech doesn't have to travel this week, it will be interesting to see if they have any effects from last week's travels. Tech beat Boston College on the road … or across the pond. The Jackets opened their season in Dublin, Ireland. They have had a week to get prepared for Mercer. The Bears on the other hand have had 10 days to get ready to swarm Atlanta. Playing a Thursday night game to open the season could benefit the Bears by getting a few extra days of rest. The combination of jet lag and extra rest on the opposing sides might make a difference. 2. Back to back triple options. The Bears opened their season with the Citadel's triple option offense. Early on, the Bears failed to contain the Bulldogs as they racked up over 150 yards in the first quarter. After the first quarter the Bears defense didn't allow another score until a late field goal that ultimately led to a 24-23 loss. Georgia Tech runs a similar option based offense. They just happen to run it a little better....well a lot better. Tech's ability to get to the edge is second to none. Paul Johnson, Tech's head coach, is a genius when it comes to adding wrinkles in the triple option offense. Yet a week ago, Tech was held to 119 yards on 44 carries. The managed to pull out the win, but it was ugly. If Mercer can disrupt the Tech run game and hold them to under 250 yards, they might have a shot to pull the upset. 3. Suspensions for Tech The Yellow Jackets will be without two of their running backs when they take the field against Mercer. Starting running back Dedrick Mills and backup running back KirVonte Benson were both suspended this week for rules violations according to a report from ESPN. Mills scored the game winning touchdown in Ireland last week. Benson didn't play at all in the season opener. The Bears will probably have to deal with back up Marcus Marshall who struggled to get going last week with just over 30 yards of rushing The Bears should have an easier time containing Marshall with Tech’s backfield missing key parts.
Chants of “I believe that we will win” ring out in the arena. The streamers are tossed high into the air. Somewhere in the sea of orange and black, the Mercer Maniacs are going wild for their team. ”We are the student spirit group. We are not an exclusive group — anyone who likes to cheer on the athletes is a Mercer Maniac. We just try and create a good environment for the students as well as the athletes,” said Thomas Norton, former president of the Mercer Maniacs. This has allowed students to arrive in the stands and immediately feel at home with the group. “[The] Maniacs give us all the chance to come together as one student body and cheer for and represent the university we love,” former member Tori Konrad said. "As Maniacs we aren’t defined by the student organizations we’re involved in, we’re all Mercerians, and we are all there to cheer on the Bears.” The group has grown from a select few that at the time was named “Hoffman’s Hooligans”. The last of the founding members are graduating and moving onto the next phase of their life. The Maniacs recently put new leadership into place. The now-former president of the Maniacs, Thomas Norton, walked across the stage. But now he is looking back on the times that he had in the stands. “It feels like a lot of things. Naturally, it’s incredibly hard to come to grips with the fact that I won’t be so heavily involved with Mercer athletics and the Maniacs [this] year. This organization, these people, have become such an integral part of my life.” Norton said. Despite the changes, Norton said he is confident that the new wave of Maniacs will carry on the legacy that he and his friends leave behind. At the start of last year, they actually elected a group of three people to the executive board that will be returning next year. “I think the transition will go quite smoothly into [this] year,” Norton said. “We have three returning executive members from [last] year, and two of the three new executive members have been heavily involved with the running of events for a couple of years and are experienced in making sure things go smoothly.” Two years ago, Norton was in a similar position as he got ready to take over the reigns from then president Blaze Jeffery. At the time, Norton was not as confident that he could make such a smooth transition for the group.[related title="Related Stories" stories="16382,19780,19787,19794" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"] “The biggest challenge is just getting used to a shift in responsibility. At the beginning of my service as president, I was really unsure of myself and, complete transparency, I thought I was going to be a huge letdown,” Norton said. “I didn’t think I could ever fill the shoes that were left before me; I just wasn’t the same kind of leader as the guys before me.” Norton believes that Jane Gibson, the new president, will be able to transition into the role with ease. Gibson served as the Maniacs’ secretary and vice president of finances. “Jane will not be the same kind of president as me, and I think that’s a great thing,” Norton said. “I think that through her own management and planning skills, she’ll be able to take the Maniacs in places that I would have never thought of. It’ll take time, but they’ll get there.” Gibson is already looking forward to taking the lead, she said. Gibson, a junior, will look to carry on the legacy of those leaving. “[Last] year, we have really worked to branch out to sports other than football and basketball,” Gibson said. “I hope to expand this and continue to work with athletics to increase attendance and participation at all sporting events.” Gibson has received pointers from Norton and stressed the importance of building relationships with organizations across campus. “Thomas has taught me that communication and collaboration are key for Maniacs. We work very closely with athletics, so I will need to be in constant communication with them,” Gibson said. “Maniacs have successfully collaborated with SGA [Student Government Association] in the past, so Thomas has stressed the importance of continuing to partner with SGA.” Gibson said that the founding members will be missed but knows that their school spirit will remain strong. “It [was] sad to watch founding members graduate, but our founding members will continue to be Maniacs from their respective locations,” Gibson said. “Maniacs are dedicated to the Bears, so I am confident that our founding members will continue to keep the Bears in their hearts, attend some sporting events and tune in to games on ESPN3.” This group of graduates are gone, but the memories will remain with them as well. Both Konrad and Norton said that the Duke game in 2014 was their favorite memory. “I cried. It was such a great moment to be a Mercerian and it put Mercer on the map.” Konrad said. Outside of the Duke victory, both offered up other moments that they enjoyed. For Konrad, she will never forget the first football game. She says that being a part of the Maniacs helped her become a college football fan again. “The first football game was pretty wonderful as well. I remember everyone lined up outside the brand new stadium waiting for tickets,” Konrad said. “We didn’t even have cheers for the football plays yet, we were learning how to be college football fans all over, but the love of Mercer was undeniable.” Norton on the other hand brought up a memory from his last year at Mercer. During women’s basketball games when the student section was bare at times, Norton could be found cheering on the team. When he was approached by other student organizations to help put on an event to pack out a game he jumped at the chance. The Chattanooga Mocs had gone over 55 straight games without a loss in the Southern Conference, but with the help of the Maniacs, the Bears toppled the Mocs. “At that game, I realized it was truly possibly to shift our fan culture to encompass more than just the main sports that always have a good student turnout,” Norton said. “It was at that moment when I saw all the work so many people had put into changing the student-fan environment come to fruition. I know that game will serve as a landmark event for the Maniacs.” While the next generation of Maniacs take over, Konrad and Norton will miss being as involved with the Maniacs. Konrad says she found her home away from home in the student section, as well as the kick line where students stand arm in arm singing songs after a Mercer win. “I’ll really miss ‘The Georgia on my Mind’ kick line,” Konrad said. “Georgia’s been my adopted state for 4 years and I’m moving away again, but I know that the song will always have a special place in my heart because of all the great victories that we celebrated singing together.” Norton is not excited about leaving the Maniacs but says he knows that it is in good hands now with Gibson and others at the helm. “As much as I want to stay here forever and continue to do these type of things, change has to happen,” Norton said. “It had to happen for me to get where I am at now, and it has to happen for the next wave of Maniacs. I will miss it, but I am eager to see where it goes.”
The Mercer Bears are set to kick off their season against last year's co-league champions the Citadel Bulldogs. Coming off a 5-6 season (2-5 in conference) Mercer will be looking to chase after its own SoCon title. Here are the keys to the game against the Bulldogs. 1.Will there be any rust? The Bears will need to be sharp out of the gates in order to knock off one of the top teams in the conference. You always have to wonder if your team will be ready after a long offseason without game action. Last season, the Bears beat Austin Peay 28-7 on the road to open the season but failed to score in the first quarter. As the game wears on both teams will probably find a groove as they come into a new season. It's possible that the team that hits their stride first will pick up the win. If the Bears get into a hole earlier, it will be tougher to overcome with the clock draining offense that the Citadel runs in the form of a triple option attack. 2.Are the Bears finally healthy? A season ago injuries plagued the Bears left and right, as they lost key guys at multiple positions. With those key contributors presumably back for the opener it should give the Bears a deeper team. It could create a lot more explosive plays on offense with guys like Alex Lakes and Chandler Curtis coming off a season filled with injuries for both players. While also beefing up the defensive side of the ball with playmakers like Kyle Trammell and Stephen Houzah. If the team is finally healthy and can stay that way, then the conference could be put on notice after this game. 3.Will it rain? Hurricane Hermine is brewing near Florida and is expected to dump a lot of rain across the Middle Georgia area. While the forecast currently shows only around a 20 percent chance of rain during the game, rain could have an impact on how the game is played. The Citadel is known for running the football and a rainy game favors a ground and pound style of football. Yet the rain may actually hurt the Bulldogs more. The triple option uses a run or pitch style, where the quarterback chooses to keep the ball or flip it to a trailing runner depending on how the play unfolds. A slick ball could spell disaster for the Bulldogs. While the Bears generally run the ball up the gut with Lakes. It would make passing the ball tough on the Bears something that the Citadel doesn't do often. Either way the rain could cause problems for both teams and make the game more of a grind.
While Macon may be landlocked, you can still find good seafood downtown in the form of southern coastal inspired Kudzu Seafood Company. The restaurant opened in January of 2015 and has become a lunch spot for those searching for a quick bite of fresh seafood. The Good: Fried Crawfish Boudin If this had been my whole meal, Kudzu would get a perfect score. I could eat these all day. The bites were breaded just right and had an interesting texture that worked well with the remoulade sauce. The sauce was good. I considered double dipping, but I wanted to survive my meal with Nick. Nick and I devoured these pretty fast and by the end of our meal we were both wishing for more. Oysters and Grouper Individually the pair tasted great, but the coleslaw and other ingredients seemed to overpower the duo on the tacos that Nick ordered. He ended up picking them both off of the tacos and eating them. The oysters were battered in cornmeal and complimented the chewy texture of the oyster well. If we had to do it again we would get them as a basket instead of on the tacos. Shrimp and cheese grits I got them tossed in buffalo sauce and they tasted great. The sauce didn't overpower the natural taste of the shrimp. The grits were by far one of the best side options. I didn't have to add salt or pepper like I usually do to grits, and the cheese was a nice addition. The Questionable: The Cajun Slaw The slaw came on Nick’s set of tacos and while it complimented the grouper well, it seemed to overpower the oysters. He noted that he isn't big on slaw in the first place which could be more of a preference issue. That's why it is slotted under questionable and not bad. The Bad: Portion size The shrimp basket came with seven shrimp and a small cup of cheese grits. The shrimp were average sized shrimp and for $10 I expected more. I finished off my basket and if not for the appetizer I would have still been hungry. When the food came, regret set in as I thought Nick’s portion of tacos looked more fulfilling than the shrimp that barely covered a quarter of the basket. I also don't think that an upgrade to a large for $4 would have been worth it. Green Bean Salad The green beans were overly crunchy and I was glad I had avoided this side dish. Nick on the other hand was not so lucky. He ate three bites before he pushed it away. The texture in general was slimy. The side selections as a whole should be upgraded. They ran out of hush puppies, which is what he wanted to begin with. Kudzu has a lot of potential but on our visit it underwhelmed us and left us wanting more. Overall, it is somewhere that I would go back to even if it is just to snack on more boudin bites. Rating: Justin 3 / 5 Nick 3 / 5
Football is ready to kickoff at Mercer on Sept. 1, as the Bears embark on a quest for their first Southern Conference (SoCon) title. For the first time since the program was restarted in 2013, the Bears will have their first true senior class. A big group of key guys who helped build the program will look to close out their final season in style. The team has gone from an upstart who set the Pioneer League on fire with a 10 win season — the most from any first year team in college football history — to a team looking to compete with the big boys in the SoCon. We have watched this team grow before our eyes. This season might finally be the year that all the hard work pays off. The Bears are poised to make a run at a title that a set of guys — without scholarships at the time — signed on for. The only question left unanswered: Are you ready for some Mercer football? THREE THINGS TO WATCH 1. Quarterback situation John Russ has started every game for the Mercer Bears since the team was re-launched in 2013. Last spring, the program landed possibly its biggest transfer recruit since the program’s restart in former Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary. The Bears also landed quarterback Kaelan Riley from Calhoun High School where coach Bobby Lamb’s brother Hal is the head coach. Lamb said that Russ was working with the other two guys all summer and catching them up on the Bears offense. Russ will be the starter heading into the season, but fans should be prepared to see McCrary take the field early on and get some in-game reps. Lamb says that Russ “is driving our train right now” and should be for the foreseeable future, barring injury. Russ outperformed all expectations during his tenure at Quarterback. From the program's record 10-2 start to a win over Chattanooga, a top three team in all of FCS football, Russ has been the leader of this team. Lamb is showing loyalty to his quarterback and some may say to a fault. Russ may not be as naturally talented as the two guys behind him, but he makes up for in heart. Fans should enjoy every snap he takes this season as his time winds down here at Mercer. Russ is the true definition of what it means to be a Mercer Bear. We have been very lucky to have him and should be grateful for his efforts in building this program. 2. Close Games The Bears have seen their share of tough losses over the last two seasons since joining the SoCon. If the team is able to win those close games this season they should be in position to compete for a conference title. The Bears seemed to turn the corner towards the end of the season with big wins over Chattanooga and Furman, sealed with Zach Jackson’s interceptions. Coach Lamb says that the guys have been working on the fourth quarter all through camp and are looking to finish more games this season. “We have been in those situations. It's a learning experience and now hopefully we get over that hump.” he said. 3. Playmakers staying healthy Alex Lakes, Chandler Curtis, Kyle Trammell, Stephen Houzah, Lemarkus Bailey and a slew of others went down with injuries that forced them to miss multiple games. This lead to two things: key contributors missed games and clutch moments, but young guys were given valuable playing time. This will be good for Lamb and the Bears to have guys with significant playing time being able to step up in case of injury while also getting back those key pieces. The ability to have actual playing time is huge as the guys have been exposed to real game situations, Lamb said. He says that this is the healthiest the team has ever been but understands that in football injuries can happen at anytime. The Bears need to stay healthier this year to make a run at a SoCon title. [pullquote speaker="Head coach Bobby Lamb" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]“We have been in those [close game] situations. It's a learning experience and now hopefully we get over that hump.[/pullquote] GAME BREAKDOWNS Sept. 1: The Citadel (7 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 34-28 The Bears fell just short on the road to the Bulldogs last year. The Citadel runs a triple option offense and which will test the defense early on. Last season, the Bulldogs had 367 rushing yards against the Bears. For Mercer to win they can’t let the dogs out of the backfield for big runs. Sept. 10: at Georgia Tech (3 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer loses 56-13 I am not going to sugar coat this — Mercer has a very slim chance to grab a win in this game. The stars would need to align perfectly to get a win over the Yellow Jackets. The main goal for this game is try and keep all the guys healthy. The one positive here is that they face a similar offense week one against the Citadel. Sept. 17: Tennessee Tech (4 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 27-24 Mercer outperformed Tennessee Tech in every facet of the game when these two teams squared off last season. At the end of the game though, the Bears were left with another close loss. They just have to find a way to finish the drill this time. If they have the same stat line again this year, there is no reason why they shouldn’t walk away with a win. Oct. 1: at VMI (1:30 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 41-24 Al Cobb of VMI is arguably the best starting quarterback in the SoCon. The Bears were able to force him to throw multiple interceptions last season, but untimely turnovers by the Bears negated that as Cobb was able to lead the Keydets to a 28-21 win. Mercer’s secondary was missing multiple pieces including Zach Jackson who went out after a big hit in the game. Jackson had an interception in the 2014 game against VMI on the road to seal Mercer’s first SoCon win. Let’s see if history will repeat itself this year. Oct. 8: at Chattanooga (4 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer loses 31-17 The most shocking upset in the SoCon last season was when the Bears sealed their victory against Chattanooga with an interception by Zach Jackson. The Bears played a near perfect game for 60 minutes. Perfect games are hard to come by. This year they have to go on the road which gives the Mocs the edge for me. This is still a hard game for me to pick as my heart says that the Bears can pull off another miracle, but my mind says that they can’t do it on the road. One key aspect of this game is that the former FCS All-American Quarterback from Chattanooga, Jacob Huesman, is now a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL. The Bears should be thankful to not have to deal with him anymore.[poll id="26" align="right" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"] Oct. 15: Western Carolina (4 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 38-31 The Bears lost on a last minute touchdown against the Catamounts in the last meeting. The Bears once again outperformed the opposing team on the stat line, but were unable to cap the game with a victory. Russ and company will need to get on the same page as they failed to score a passing touchdown last season against the Catamounts. This is where Chandler Curtis and Jimmie Robinson come into play. The pair will need to be good to break down the Catamounts defense with explosive plays. Oct. 22: at Austin Peay (4 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 42-14 Alex Lakes ran over the Governors to the tune of 159 yards on 23 carries while former backup running back, Tee Mitchell, also went over the century mark. Expect the Bears to do more of the same this year as they look to make it three in a row against Austin Peay. Austin Peay has not won a game since Oct. 18, 2014. The Governors will need to win before Oct. 22 to end that streak because it won’t happen against Mercer. The Governors also faced new Mercer quarterback, Johnny McCrary, while he was a member of the Vanderbilt Commodores. He put up 368 yards, two touchdowns and went 28-33 on pass completions. Oct. 29: at Wofford (1:30 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 35-32 This was easily the most heartbreaking game of last season for the Bears as they lost in overtime after a missed extra point. They were able to hang with Wofford all night and made all the right plays to put themselves in position to win. They won’t let it slip away this time. I think the game will come down to a field goal again. Nov. 5: East Tennessee State (3 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 56-3 The Buccaneers are a brand new football team going through growing pains. Bears should win in a walk as they won 52-0 in the inaugural meeting between the two sides. Expect to see Kaelan Riley or Johnny McCrary in this game by the half. The Bears arrgh not losing this game — which is pirate speak for this one will be a blowout. Nov. 12: at Samford (3:30 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer loses 42-35 Macon native Chris Hatcher has turned the Samford football program in the right direction, or at least they showed flashes of promise last season. I expect them to be one of the top three teams in the conference this season. After getting blown out last season by Samford, I expect the Bears to keep it closer. Samford just has way too many weapons. Their receiving corps is on another level from any other team in the SoCon. Nov. 19: Furman (3 p.m.) Prediction: Mercer wins 24-14 Bobby Lamb’s old team will return to Five Star Stadium after knocking off the Bears in Mercer’s first ever SoCon game two years ago that came down to the wire. Last season, Zach Jackson had a game-winning interception to close out the Paladins. Fans should buckle in for a hard nosed brand of football as the defenses may showcase their talents in this game. This game will have the feeling of an intense rivalry, which means all bets are off as anything can happen in a rivalry game.
The Bears’ women’s soccer team split their first two games and dropped their home opener to start the new season. In the season opener Friday, the Bears racked up the goals and shut out the Alabama A&M Bulldogs as they cruised to a win, 6-0. Senior Abbey Reddig netted two goals to pace the Bears in the victory. Valeria Bermeo, Maddie Clark, Emma Tokuyama and Logan Culver added goals to open the season’s first game with six goals. The last time the Bears scored six goals in a game was against Chattanooga in a 6-1 rout on Oct. 2, 2015. On Sunday, the Bears were unable to get their offense going against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They dropped their home opener, 3-0. One bright spot in the match was senior Cristina Mursuli, who stopped seven shots on goal in her first complete game at Goalkeeper in her career at Mercer. The Bears will be back in action on the road against Kennesaw State Aug. 26 as they look to stay undefeated away from home.
John Russ handed the ball off and his running back pitched it back to him. He cocked his arm and fired a deep ball towards the end zone. The stadium held its collective breath as receiver J.T Palmer laid out for the ball in the middle of double coverage. Russ threw his arms skyward as the Bears won 45-42 over Jacksonville during the 2013 season. “That was probably one of the best moments. The crowd was insane that game.” Russ said. At the time Russ was a freshman quarterback with just 8 starts under his belt. Four years later, Russ is set to start his senior season. While his abilities on the field have grown, life off the field has remained the same. Russ is the definition of a simple man. Even down to food that he eats. “He doesn't like a whole lot of different foods. He will eat a hamburger, chicken fingers or maybe a little bit of pizza,” said Bobby Lamb, head coach of the Bears. It’s the love for the little things in life that made Russ the laid-back person and football player he is today. “John Russ is a simple guy who enjoys being with his girlfriend and playing with his dogs,” Russ said. “My whole life revolves around football.” Russ grew up in a family who played football. He wanted to be like his older brother, so he began to play around the age of 6. The football in New York was a lot different from that in the south, Russ said. He had to play up in different age groups as the game just isn't as big up there as it is in Georgia. He moved down South at the age of 11. He says the transition was not a huge deal and feels like he is a “Georgia boy” as the majority of the life he remembers has been spent here. Russ went to Mill Creek High School in Buford, Georgia. He was the starting quarterback for three seasons, racking up over 6,000 yards and 54 touchdowns. This grabbed the attention of college scouts. Russ did not receive any offers from major schools in the state, mostly just preferred walk-on options. Then, Reinhardt came in with an offer. “They were like, ‘We will give you some money and make sure you don’t have to pay anything,’” he said. Carroll McCray, who at the time was working as Mercer’s assistant head coach, reached out to Russ and expressed interest in him. He explained to Russ what Mercer was trying to build with their football program and invited him for a visit. “I came down here and went to a basketball game. It was a really cool environment,” He said. “It had great academics and gave me a chance to achieve my dream of playing Division One football.” McCray left to take a job elsewhere before he ever coached a game on Mercer’s staff under Bobby Lamb, but landing Russ has payed off for the program. Russ has started every game since the program relaunched in 2013. He has amassed numerous accolades including Pioneer Football Offensive Freshman of the Year and multiple Player of the Week awards. The Bears recently added two big name quarterbacks in freshman Kaelan Riley and graduate transfer Johnny McCrary. With two highly touted back ups behind him, Russ is feeling the push to be a better quarterback. “Competition breeds success. I have always lived by that,” Russ said. “When you have guys behind you, you don't get complacent. You realize that if something happens they can come in there and take your spot.” After football is over he hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of Coach Lamb. Russ wants to be a graduate assistant and eventually wants to be a head coach. Lamb already sees the makings of a coach in the way that Russ approaches the game. “He is a football coach,” Lamb said. “He loves watching tape.” Growing up Russ always ended up on bad teams that struggled to win games, he said. But the teams seemed to find a way to win the last game of the season. As he returns for his senior season at Mercer, he is on a team that is contending for a title, but the goal to end on a high note remains the same as his youth football days. “I want those 28 seniors to go out on top because we have worked our tail off more than people realize,” Russ said “We saw the whole thing build and we just want to end with a nice icing on the cake, a nice little SoCon ring on top.”
Johnny McCrary, the graduate transfer from Vanderbilt, has left the Mercer football program after transferring to university in the offseason. McCrary was set to be one of backup quarterbacks behind John Russ heading into the season. Russ has started every game for the Bears since the program was restarted in 2013. McCrary started in 12 games for the Commodores. He threw for 2,518 yards and 15 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. As a graduate transfer he was eligible to play two seasons with the Bears. With McCrary leaving, the Bears are left with senior starter Russ, junior Tanner Brumby, sophomore Michael Haynes and freshman Kaelan Riley. Patrick Walsh, Mercer’s new assistant athletic director of media relations, confirmed that McCrary had left the program and that a statement would be released shortly. The Cluster has reached out to McCrary for comment and is waiting for a response. Check back here for more updates
The walkup music hits. Kyle Lewis steps into the batter's box as he readies himself for the first pitch. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning against ETSU. The game is tied 9-9. Lewis makes contact with ball. It soars through the air and over the wall. The Bears win in walk off fashion. The 6-foot-4 centerfield said that it was one of his favorite moments from his time so far at Mercer. “I had a walk-off home run last year. That was pretty exciting,” Lewis said. “I just like to relax, continue to believe in myself and get a good pitch. Then I put my best swing on it.” Lewis has certainly put his best swing on a lot of pitches. The junior leads the Bears in home runs with 15, as well as a batting average at .414. Lewis has dominated the college game and major league scouts have taken notice. He is currently tabbed by multiple websites, including ESPN and MLB.com, as a top 10 draft pick in their mock drafts ahead of the June 9 Major League Baseball Draft. [video credit="Thais Ackerman" align="left"][/video] While Lewis’ full attention is on baseball now, it has not always been that way. He didn't turn his focus to playing college baseball until his senior of high school. “I played a lot of basketball. I didn't really pursue baseball. But after I played summer ball that year, I kinda started pursuing it.” Lewis said. In his high school summer league, Lewis put on a show. He became the star player on the travel ball team, and his performance convinced him to give up basketball and play baseball full time. “I just played well. I shocked even myself in how well I did. Then people started calling and showing interest in me,” Lewis said. “I picked up on that, and I just tried to run with it.” Lewis popped up on Mercer’s radar around that time. Lewis played one of his summer ball tournaments at Mercer. During that time, Mercer coaches expressed some interest Lewis said. “They called and said if they had anymore scholarship money they would give it to me,” Lewis said. Two weeks later, Lewis received another phone call, with good news on the other end. “A couple weeks later they called and said they had gotten some scholarship money,” Lewis said. After getting that call, Lewis set up a visit to come down and tour the facilities. He said he “fell in love with it.” Other schools had reached out in an attempt to land him including Mercer’s Southern Conference rival Furman, who looked like the front runner in the Lewis sweepstakes. “I was gonna go to either Furman, Georgia State, Kennesaw State or Savannah State,” Lewis said. “I was looking at those four, and Furman was probably the biggest one I was looking at going to. Then Mercer called and I fell in love . . . so [I] kinda cancelled the rest of it.” When Lewis arrived at Mercer, he switched positions from first base to center field. He had never played outfield before. This made his transition from high school baseball to college more difficult, but Lewis handled it with ease. “That was a transitional period for me, but I think I was able to pick up on it pretty quickly,” Lewis said. “We had a lot of seniors that year, so it was a big plus for me being able to learn from the older guys and follow what they do.” Lewis was named to the Atlantic Sun all-freshman team, hitting .281 and two home runs. Lewis played in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in the summer following his freshman year. There he began to make a name for himself. Upon his return to Mercer, his bat caught fire. He hit .367 to lead the SoCon in batting average and finished seventh in the nation in home runs with 17. He was invited to the Cape Cod League where he was named an all-star. Then he got an invite to the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby. While Lewis did not win the derby, he enjoyed the chance to compete. “The home run derby was amazing. Something like that I've never really experienced before.” Lewis said. The home run derby created a different atmosphere for Lewis. In a normal game, he is surrounded by his teammates, but with the derby, he was on his own. “The home run derby, it's just you. So it was a little different feeling, but it was probably one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life,” Lewis said. One of the things the derby also exposed Lewis to was the fanfare and the celebrity-like status that college baseball players have on that stage. “Everybody was so nice and so welcoming. The fans had pictures of you, and you didn't even know that people from Nebraska had heard of you,” Lewis said. “It was just a gratifying experience.” [pullquote speaker="Lewis" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"] “I want to be the type of player that people can look up to. I want to be one of those role model type people for younger people coming up.”[/pullquote] Lewis’ celebrity status has risen with his draft stock. He still said he has not made up his mind on if he will come back for his senior season. “Me and my family look at it from a situation of if the situation is not right or it would serve me better to do another year in college, then I am more than willing to do that,” Lewis said “We don't rule it out by any means. Other people may try to rule it out for you, but we definitely don't rule it out.” Many people expect him to forego his last year of eligibility, including his head coach Craig Gibson. “I would love for Kyle Lewis to come back next year, but I don't think that's going to happen,” Gibson said on the Inside the Den Podcast on April 5. Once his playing days at Mercer are done, he wants to leave something behind at the university, like being a “model Mercerian,” among many other things. “The legacy that I would want to leave behind would be for someone to look back on and say ‘that was a great teammate, that was a hard worker, that was a guy who came to the field everyday and worked his but off for his guy,’” Lewis said. “I want them to say I finished above a 3.0 GPA, so I am not up here just trying to be an athlete and not worrying about the scholar part of things.” While Lewis said that being talked about as a top 10 draft choice is “the most exciting thing I have experienced to this point in my life,” he has larger goals set for himself. “I want to be the type of player that people can look up to. I want to be one of those role model type people for younger people coming up,” Lewis said. “If you do that and you accomplish that, it is all you can really ask for out of life.” Despite the fact that he is almost certainly a lock to be in the top half of the MLB draft, he said the pressure is not something that weighs on him. “There are definitely expectations out there, but pressure is what you put on yourself.” Lewis said. “Somebody else can't put pressure on you.”
The “Biggest Muscle DJ” came on stage and got the crowd hyped up, and then the horns blared. It felt like I was watching an episode of “Jersey Shore.” “How to be the man” rang out in the Cox Capitol Theater and the Peach Panther stormed the stage, singing along to his hit. The crowd went crazy as Riff Raff appeared unannounced and rapped above the noise. April 1 was April Fools Day and many thought Riff Raff’s performance in Macon was an elaborate joke — yet there he was, rocking the crowd. After the first song, he introduced himself along with his DJ and gave a quick plug to the brand new t-shirts on sale in the back. Riff Raff is clearly the master of the plug — he did everything he could to convince the crowd to buy a t-shirt. Then he walked over, picked up his giant bottle of Ciroc and downed it before giving Monster Energy a shout out. The night felt more like a commercial than a concert. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate Riff Raff as an artist, but I think the audience has to realize that he is not there to be great rapper. He is there to sell his brand and put on a great show, and I must say he has done well for himself. Riff Raff continued the concert with more of his own hits such as “Dolce and Gabbana” and new, unreleased singles such as a project he did with rapper 2 Chainz. I must say that the crowd really got into his better-known songs. I even found myself singing along to “Dolce and Gabbana” and “How to be the Man.” When it was a song that no one knew, most audience members whipped out their phones and took selfies with Riff Raff in the background. On one of his new songs, he launched money into the air and sent the crowd into a dollar-grubbing frenzy. Some of the more exciting moments actually occurred when he covered other people's songs. Popular hits such as “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap and “Love Sosa” by Chief Keef were well-received by the crowd. Finally, Riff Raff ended with his most well-known song, “Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz.” This song got everyone in the crowd going. No one was “sleeping on him, snoring.” However, the most pleasant surprise of the night came before Riff Raff ever hit the stage. The opening act, the Fresh Valley Kings, came out as a mostly unknown act. For an entire hour, the group showed that they have staying power in the Macon music scene. The three piece group is made up of Mercer alumni Midas Wright (Grey Newell) and Wulfman (Ryan Walters) and Mercer student Jak Sun (Jackson Dillard). They had never played in a venue as large as the Cox before, Jak Sun said. They have only done local shows at Fresh Produce Records, The Mill and The Hummingbird. “Me being from Macon, playing at the Cox is huge. That's where pretty much all the bigger names acts go,” Jak Sun said. “Opening up for Riff Raff was just surreal. Getting to see him backstage getting in a zone, it's honestly kind of inspiring. He is out there living the dream, getting lit.” Much like Riff Raff, you can't take their lyrics too seriously. Their music has a lot of “let's say the most ridiculous thing possible,” like in their crowd pleaser “Wrists Up, Fists Up.” Yet the flow and content (aside from the vulgar language) is impressively delivered. In terms of talent, they may have been the best act on the stage. Fresh Valley Kings had fans chanting their lyrics for about 10 minutes after they left the stage, a testament to how well they were received. They used catchy hooks and crafty wordplay, which at times made it feel like you were listening to a more seasoned group of individuals. “Our music is all about energy and feeling the crowd connecting and vibing to our songs like never before was a hallmark moment.” Midas Wright said. “We fed off of it. That was our best performance holistically as a group, and we were honored to open for an artist as notable as Riff Raff.” Both the Fresh Valley Kings and Riff Raff line up in the same type of rap, which made the show a lot of fun from start to finish. While I've never seen anything like it before (and may never see anything like it again) I actually enjoyed the experience. Overall, I would not go to see Riff Raff if I wanted to see a serious concert rapper. I would go see him for the experience and his stage presence. It was unbelievable how well he played to the crowd. The Neon Icon didn't disappoint . . . if you went in understanding what you were getting yourself into.
"Love" is a Netflix original that doesn't feel like any of their other content — and different from any show I have ever seen. The premise of the show revolves around two people who are in dead-end relationships or have just had their heart broken, depending on how you look at it. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is a talk show producer with drug, alcohol and sex addiction problems. She is with her initial boyfriend who she leaves every week only to have sex when they get high together. This leads her down a path of sure destruction. Gus (Paul Rust) is a tutor for the children on the TV show “Witchita” and is an aspiring writer for the show. His love life is not any better than Mickey’s, as his girlfriend tells him that she no longer loves him. He falls into a deep depression and walks down a similar path as the female lead. Their paths finally cross when Gus heads to a gas station where Mickey is yelling at the clerk over the price of coffee. "Love" begins when Gus picks up the cost of Mickey’s coffee and pack of cigarettes. There are lots of twists and turns, including Gus garnering the interest of an actor on set who by most standards is a perfect 10. Somehow, the little geek makes her fall for him with his charm and genuine attitude towards others. However, Gus loses himself along the way and you question whether he really is the nice guy. Mickey uses Gus to fill the void that the drugs and alcohol left. This leads to her turning into a borderline stalker, showing up at his work and home unannounced. But does she love him? I went into this series with fairly low expectations and maybe that was not fair of me. I am a huge fan of romantic comedies and figured I would give it a shot. It shattered the molds established by predecessors, and I am hopeful for a second season. The show took me on a journey that I feel is not far off from what everyday people go through. Love is not always a fairytale that movies portray and sometimes set unrealistic expectations for. I binged watch the first season in a couple days as it had me hooked from probably the second episode. The first episode is kind of slow, but the build towards the two main characters meeting ends up being worth it. The show is paced well and does not feel rushed. It gets just enough laughs through jabs of satirical writing to keep you smiling. It's not exactly the most uplifting show and can at times be a downright depressing look at love. I will say that this is not a show for the family. There is a lot of cussing and some form of sex or nudity in every episode. If you are not offended by any of this, then I think you should give "Love" a chance.