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NC's Mercer making his way to East Carolina
MAURICE MAKES HIS DECISION - IT'S EAST CAROLINA. Nash Central High School's Maurice Mercer (front, center) signs a football scholarship last Wednesday morning to continue his career at East Carolina University.
ROCKY MOUNT - While watching Maurice Mercer early in his career, Nash Central High football coach Kenneth Grantham knew he had the potential to be a Division I player.

It was just a matter of putting things together.

That, however, would prove to be the hardest part for Mercer, who was temporarily suspended from the team as a sophomore before choosing not to return to the program that season.

Several months later, Grantham and Mercer had a conversation that would ultimately lead to last Wednesday's signing with East Carolina University.

A defensive end in high school, Mercer (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) was recruited by the likes of North Carolina, South Carolina and Boston College before choosing the Pirates.

"(ECU) plans to redshirt Maurice to see how he develops in the weight room,'' Grantham said. "He could go either way -- as a linebacker or an end. If he puts weight on, he'll be an end, and I think that's the position he is most comfortable with, anyway.''

Mercer's opportunity almost never came following his dismissal from the team as a 10th-grader. The next spring, Mercer sat down with Grantham to begin a healing process that would lead to Mercer eventually becoming one of NC's team leaders.

"I told Maurice about some issues that I had, and what he needed to correct to come back and be a part of the team,'' Grantham said. "I think Maurice understood those things. He needed to make some changes, and he did. It was kind of a hard lesson to learn, but he did learn from it.''

Months later, Mercer was helping lead the chants at NC's practice -- an honor that is bestowed upon the Bulldog's most respected, veteran players.

Mercer's game also began to see an upgrade on the field as he emerged as one of the top defensive linemen in the NEW-6 Conference.

As a senior, Mercer made 82 tackles to go with eight sacks and five deflected passes. At the conclusion of the season, Mercer was selected to the NEW-6's All-Conference squad.

"During Maurice's junior and senior years, he made tremendous strides,'' Grantham said. "You could see a change in the way he approached things. The way he did it -- I think you will continue to see that down the road from him.

"I told Maurice what he needed to do (to earn a football scholarship), and he worked hard to do those things.''

As a result, Mercer will go down in history as Nash Central's first Division I football signee.

"This is a perfect example to our kids that, even if things don't go right early on, you can be a better person in the long run and receive an opportunity,'' Grantham said. "Maurice did a great living up to his end of the deal. He went to camps and combines (to get noticed and evaluated) and his grades were such that he was going to be a qualifier right off the bat.''

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