On Saturday night, one of Houston’s own had the first homecoming of his collegiate career.
That someone was Demun Mercer, sophomore wide receiver.
Mercer was born in Louisiana, but has lived in Houston since he was in fifth grade. His uncle is a pastor at a church on Francis Street, which is just a few blocks away from the University of Houston and across the street from the football stadium.
“Growing up, I’ve seen the stadium,” Mercer said. “Basically like being in the backyard, hearing the announcers announce other guys before my time. It’s a good experience living in that area.”
Usually hometown kids go one of two directions. Either they dream of playing football in the stadium they are so accustomed to seeing, or, as in Mercer’s case, they want to get away from home.
Mercer played high school football with his brother, Jafus Gaines, senior wide receiver, and Tim Gay, senior linebacker. Mercer played quarterback, Gaines was his number one receiver and Gay was his running back. Mercer said the three were one of the best triple-threat, high-powered offenses in the state.
Then Gay and Gaines left together for Texas State, with Mercer left behind at Chavez High School. That temporary distance would never separate the brothers permanently.
“Since we were young, we always told each other we were going to stick together,” Mercer said. “We just decided that we were going to stick together and rock it on out from there.”
After transferring to La Marque High School for his senior year, Mercer followed in the footsteps of his older brother and committed to Texas State.
“I didn’t want to be too close to home,” Mercer said. “I felt like U of H was right there. I kind of wanted to get away from home, so Texas State was my best option and I don’t regret my decision to come here at all.”
Mercer was recruited as an athlete and anticipated a move to receiver even though he played quarterback all his life.
Transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver wasn’t easy for Mercer. He said it initially took a mental strain on him simply because the perspective of the game is completely different.
“It’s different from being in the backfield to now you’re outside on an island by yourself,” Mercer said. “So what I did was took all the quarterback knowledge that I had and used it as a receiver.”
A quarterback’s awareness is something that Mercer used to help ease the transition to wide receiver. The quarterback has to know everyone’s job on the field and know where people are supposed to be. Having that knowledge and experience helps him understand coverage in the secondary, including where and how to align himself.
Fast forward two years later and Mercer was set to return home and play in front of his friends and family for the first time since his senior year at La Marque.
This is Mercer’s first collegiate homecoming.
He knows some players on the team, guys he played with and against on Friday nights.
Mercer did say he wants to make this game a special one for his friends and family to see, but he made sure to not make this game a bigger deal than it needs to be. Playing in front of family in your hometown is always fun, but there is business to be taken care of first and foremost.
“(Mercer and Jafus) haven’t made too much of a mention of it, but they have told me that they do know some of the guys,” said Jason Johnson, wide receivers coach. “They haven’t really made too much of a fuss about it. They know the business at hand, which is we have to take care of our business regardless of who is over there and who they may know.”
Mercer is ready to come back home and do his best to perform well.
What once was a boy listening to the announcers call out the names of the Houston players will now be a young man hearing the announcers call his own name.
“Yeah, I’m back home,” Mercer said. “(The team has) to make sure that we are on the same page from the game plan to just staying focused, period. The game is going to be exciting. Friends will hit us up, but if we stay focused, stay dedicated and keep working then we will be fine.”
Follow Paul Livengood on Twitter @IamLivengood.