Mercadante excelling in his senior season for WSU football
WESTFIELD – In first meeting Michael Mercadante, the stellar running back for the Westfield State University football team, it would be easy to be intimated by his size and stature; but once he starts speaking it is easy to realize he is more than the leader in rushing yards per game in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference. The senior captain has been a critical player for four years for the Owls.
“I knew right from the first game of this season that this was going to be a different year,” Mercadante said. “We were stepping in the right direction.”
Westfield is currently 4-2 in the MASCAC and 5-3 overall.
Entering the season with personal goals of 1,000 rushing yards for the season, and 3,000 for his career, marks that may have been considered lofty considering the difficulty he had staying on the field as a sophomore and a junior.
Mercadante has overcome a number of injuries, large and small, in putting together a tremendous senior season which has him on the verge of reaching his full potential and meeting a number of individual and team goals.
His freshman year he rushed 637 yards scored eight touchdowns while playing in all ten games, leading the team in rushing while largely splitting carries with Brian Beauchemin.
His sophomore year at Westfield, Mercadante’s season ended too soon after a high ankle sprain a little more than halfway through the season. Although he only played in seven games that fall, again his potential was evident as in two of the games he rushed for more than 150 yards.
In November 2013 he had surgery on his shoulder to help repair an AC separation and disc location, which had been an issue since he was a senior in high school. Although this cut his season short after playing in only six games he still managed to run for 519 yards in his junior year and helped the Owls win four of those six games.
Coming back this season Mercadante wasn’t particularly worried about the injury. While he missed a few games at the end of last season, he did not allow himself to miss any of the winter workouts or spring ball. He admitted he was a little behind physically due to weight loss from the surgery. He knew he had to rebuild muscle and he trained harder than ever before.
“I probably had the best off season of my life, training wise everything came together,” Mercadante said.
That training is paying off, as “Merc” broke his first personal goal of 1,000 yards in the season last week against Fitchburg State University, and he is 293 yards away from his overall goal of 3,000 yards. With a pair of games left in the regular season it is not out of the question, as he’s romped for games of 228 and 196 yards already this season.
Additionally, if the Owls close the season with a pair of wins, the team would be in position to be considered for an ECAC Bowl game bid –which would be the Owls’ first since 2002.
Owls head coach Pete Kowalski has been thrilled with Mercadante’s efforts for the team this year.
“He may not be in a class of his own, but it doesn’t take long to call the roll,” Kowalski said of his star running back earlier this season while paraphrasing legendary Houston Oilers’ coach Bum Phillips’ praise of All-Pro Earl Campbell.
“He emblematic of our team,” Kowalski added. “He has a blue collar work ethic, and he’d be the first to tell you that everything he’s able to accomplish is because of his offensive line, his fullback, and the opportunities that the passing game opens up for him.”
When the option of surgery came up after last season’s injury, Kowalski knew enough about Mike’s character that he would be diligent about recovery and do what he needed to do to get back in playing shape.
“The way the medical profession is now, many times after surgery you are stronger than you were before,” said Kowalski. “I was happy that he got the surgery, I think that he needed to have, it not just for being able to play, but for the rest of his life.”
Mercadante studies liberal arts with concentrations in Movement science, psychology and sociology and a minor in wilderness studies. Mike plans to move to Martha’s Vineyard after graduation.
“He is what Westfield State has been for the last 24 years under coach Marino and what I would like to continue” says Coach Kowalski. “We are a tough physical team and that is the brand of football that we play and I think Mike embodies that.”
“As a running back you always have to praise your offensive line, those guys have always been there,” Mercadante, a native of Wilbraham, who graduated from Minnechaug Regional High School, said.
Interestingly, two of Mercadante’s blockers, guard Kyle Seidnitzer and tackle Eddie Fallon have been teammates of his since the fifth grade.
“He’s a great leader for us, he leads by example, he always brings his best effort and by doing so inspires the rest of us to do the same,” Fallon said.
Seidnitzer believes Mercadante’s best qualities as a person are his care and respect for other people, which are shown on the field in the way he plays football.
“No matter how good of a game he has he never talks about himself or if he runs someone over he never says anything to them, he is really good about doing his job,” Fallon said. “He is kind to everyone.”
Mercadante has clearly made a huge impact on the football program at Westfield.
“If he needs to be corrected in anything he takes coaching very well,” said Kowalski. “When your captains take coaching well, and care about the team and their teammates, and demonstrate that everybody sees that.”
The senior running back strives to influence the younger players on the team.
“I definitely want to be remembered as the guy who really cared about the team and not just himself, as an individual,” Mercadante said. “I just want to be known as the person that wanted to help the other kids on the team and be a positive influence on them.”