Five years ago that
scenario was a reality for Tim and Linda Mercer and their
All-Everything son, Matt, but it didn't happen by accident. Tim had a plan- a
plan that worked pretty well. "Since Matt's from a small school (Beechwood in
N. Ky.), I thought I had to be proactive in getting Matt's name out. I told
Coach Yeagle that I would get together videotapes and letters to send out to
colleges. I think not doing this is a big mistake many parents make. They
think every recruiter will be beating a path to their door if their son is good
enough to play college football. Just last year a kid from Beechwood didn't get
any scholarship offers because his parents just sat back and waited. Matt even
took some videotape over to UC for the kid, and some of the Bearcat coaches felt
the kid could have gone to some MAC schools and been a good performer. Instead,
he going to Georgetown, Kentucky."
The groundwork for an athletic scholarship really starts when the athlete
begins high school, and Tim stressed that grades are important. "I would tell
parents to watch their son's grades even as early as his freshman year. Don't
wait until the junior or senior year to start being concerned about grades. It
may be too late. Miami of Ohio said they would offer Matt a scholarship, but
his grades were borderline."
Next, don't assume letters and questionnaires from schools will eventually
become scholarship offers. Tim said his son received scores of letters from
institutions as far away as Nebraska, Kansas State, Mississippi and even UCLA.
"Receiving letters is nice, but they really don't mean too much until coaches
actually arrive for visits. Kentucky must have sent 1 or 2 letters a day. We
received literature from probably 30-40 schools, but Alabama, Miami of Ohio,
Akron, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky showed the most interest.
Alabama's coach visited Beechwood four times to recruit Matt, but in the end,
didn't offer a scholarship. I guess they got who they wanted right before
So how did Matt end up at UC? The Bearcats entered the picture kind of late.
"Joe Daniels (presently at OSU) and Larry Zierlein (recently of the Cleveland
Browns) recruited Matt for UC. Coach Minter really had nothing to do with
Matt's recruitment. I guess he wasn‘t a big enough fish." Nevertheless,
Cincinnati finally offered Matt a scholarship, and he became a Bearcat which
meant staying close to home.
For the Mercers, the recruiting trail had it highs and lows. "In the
beginning, recruiting was fun and exciting, but it can get really old with all
the phone calls." They also cautioned that a scholarship is never a sure thing
until there's a signature on the letter of intent. " A friend of Matt's from
Dixie High School thought Marshall was going to offer a scholarship and actually
stopped taking calls from other schools. All of a sudden the Marshall calls and
visits stopped only a couple weeks before signing day. He didn't receive
Having Matt play his college ball at UC turned out to be a real plus for the
Mercers. "Matt's going to school so close to home was great. Family and
friends could easily attend games, and if Matt got homesick, he was only 15
minutes from home. On the other hand, living in the dorms allowed him to get
away from us as if he were 500 miles away."
Despite all the positives, there are a couple regrets too. "The four different
position coaches wasn't a plus, and I wish Coach Dantonio had gotten there about
4 years earlier. But really, it was great. Matt got to know a lot of great
kids and got a quality education. We feel really lucky." When asked if he'd
send another son to UC to play for Coach Dantonio, Tim's response was quick and
sure, "I would send him there in a heartbeat."
In addition to the friendships and degree, Matt also got to participate in 4
bowl games and was a member of a C-USA championship team. Matt started in 25
games, won 4 letters, and played in all but a handful of games. The University
of Cincinnati got a starting offensive lineman, a solid citizen, and a rather
large fan of UC football. Tim Mercer's recruiting plan worked for both the
Mercers and the University of Cincinnati.