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Cougars expect Mercer merger

August 26, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - If everything goes to plan for coach Jay Kirby, Jefferson High School's motto will be simple.

"Give the ball to Mercer and let 'em beg for mercy."

Tailback B.J. Mercer will be the focal point of a Cougar football team that has changed its identity over the years.

In years past, Jefferson was a wide-open, throw-caution-to-the- wind offense. Not so now, especially with Mercer.

"We used to have players like (quarterback Troy) Wilt and (receiver James) Jett," said Kirby, who's in his 14th year at Jefferson. "We don't have that kind of speed any more."

Changing is a lot easier to take with a Mercer around. The senior carried the ball 131 times for 859 yards and eight touchdowns for a 4-6 team. He also caught 22 passes for 263 yards.

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"He's a two-year starter for us and a good athlete," Kirby said. "He's going to be our go-to guy. We have to get him the ball. But we also have to mix things up and try for some balance."

Jefferson's balance in the running attack comes in the form of fullback Wee Nelson. With the main emphasis leaning on the running backs, Jefferson is looking to control the ball and lull their opponents to sleep.

"I think we will be pretty explosive," Kirby said. "We have some good speed in the backfield. We have some kids who can move the ball, but we can also break a long one. We have to control the ball some to help our defense."

Jefferson is suffering through a generation gap of sorts. The Cougars have 68 players out for the team, but 37 of them are sophomores. That means experienced backups are limited.

"This year we have more kids out as sophomores than ever before," Kirby said. "In the past, we'd have 15-20 sophomores out and a lot of upperclassmen. Last year, we had a big senior club."

The strength of Jefferson's defense will lie in its inside linebackers - Nelson and Chris Mohr. The Cougars also boast some size along their lines with Brandon Ballinger (6-foot-3, 259 pounds), Troy Longerbeam (6-2, 280), John Reece (6-0, 210) and Matt Wilson (6-0, 215).

Jefferson's season may ride on how much resistance the defense can put up.

"We can't give up the big play," Kirby said. "That's why we want to control the ball as much as possible. We have got to stay healthy. That's a big key."

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