Gila River football player Jeremy Mercier is officially a Utah Ute. The redshirt sophomore linebacker made things official when he inked his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday night at Union Grill in Gilbert.
“I can’t wait to put that helmet on and start playing,” Mercier said. “I know it’s going to be a lot of work, but I don’t come from much so I’m ready to get it started and I’m ready to get to work. I want to show the world what I got. I’m gonna take this opportunity and I’m going to run with it,”
The Gila River Hawks are part of the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference, which is the new home for Junior College football in Arizona. The 2019 season was the initial year for both the program and the conference, as it was created after the Maricopa County Junior College system decided to do away with football.
Mercier was recruited out of high school by Coach Felker when he was the coach at Mesa Community College. A local product of Basha High School, Mercier felt like although he needed some growth, he flew under the radar. Mercier decided to take a chance on himself by taking the community college, which was what Mercier ultimately decided was the best option.
He redshirted his freshman season with MCC before playing for the program in its final season. When Felker took the job as the coach of Gila River, Mercier followed.
“He had the faith and confidence and he trusted me. He took a leap,” Coach Felker said.
Mercier followed the process for the first three years of his career and it’s ultimately paying off. He is the first player in the HJCAC to receive a Power 5 scholarship. Mercier said that Utah was one of the schools that decided to pull the trigger and take the chance on him, which is something that a number of other programs were hesitant about.
“We had a few talks with PAC-12 teams but the first ones to hit me up were really the University of Utah and Utah State. Those were the two schools that really pulled the trigger on me,” Mercier said. “They took a chance on me so I’m gonna make sure they don’t regret it.”
During his three years going through the junior college program in Arizona, Mercier was able to grow in a number of ways. Not only was he able to continue improving as a linebacker on the field and mature mentally, he also was able to mature physically. Part of that was because of Coach Toby Wright.
Wright is a local kid himself who, through hard work and dedication, was able to make a name for himself. A graduate of Dobson High School, Wright played football at Mesa Community College before going on to play football at the University of Nebraska. Wright went on to become a hall of famer at Nebraska and was drafted in the second round of the 1994 draft. During his time in the NFL, he played for both the Rams and the Redskins.
For Wright, being part of Mercier’s process is his way of giving back to the community that helped him achieve all he was able to achieve. He called himself a “hit or miss guy,” who didn’t have a ton of opportunities right out of high school. However, through his hard work and the village of people who helped him get to the next level, he was able to achieve his dreams.
Wright now uses his story to help guide these players in the football process to get them where they want to be. Although Wright had a big role in helping Wright develop physically by allowing him to put on more than 40 pounds of muscle, he also helped to develop him into a young man.
“I’m just so proud of him. I remember him being a bean pole, you know, tall, lean and playing corner,” Wright said. “For him to finally have these accomplishments, it’s unexplainable.”
Felker and Wright each talked about the work ethic of Mercier and spoke about who he is as a character. Both described him as a respectful young man who comes from a great family that helped instill in him a strong set of core values. When the saying “be coachable,” comes to mind, Mercier is a perfect example of that.
“He made it simple. You just had to tell him what to do and he went and did it. Half the time, you don’t see kids like that anyway. He’s like the last of a dying breed,” Wright said. “One thing I told him is that you don’t have to go introduce yourself to any coach around there (Utah), they’re going to know you by the way you work.”
Some people initially questioned if the conference would work out and how strong the players in the program would be. However, as the season progressed, it became clear that the HJCAC was a great option for players who were interested in taking the junior college route in Arizona. Mercier is just one of many talented athletes who now have an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have been there.
“If this doesn’t provide credibility and legitimacy for people on the outside looking in, then what does? We have a great academic model, you don’t go to play at Utah if it doesn’t work,” Coach Felker said. “We have 21 kids with NCAA offers right now in our program alone.”
The HJCAC is looking forward to continuing helping players like Mercier as their program continues to develop. They know that Mercier is the first of many who will receive a Power 5 offer, creating an opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have had.