It was one of the most freak injuries ever.
Hoboken was facing Dumont in a preseason football scrimmage. Red Wings’ placekicker Jacob Fermaint lined up to attempt a field goal. Josh Mercado, not even the regular holder, was poised to hold the ball for Fermaint.
Incredibly, disaster struck.
Instead of kicking the football, Fermaint kicked Mercado’s hand.
“I didn’t think it was bad,” Mercado said. “I played the rest of the scrimmage.”
However, after the Red Wings returned home, Mercado had x-rays done on his hand. The result was a broken hand and Mercado would have to miss several games.
“It was depressing,” Mercado said. “I always want to be on the field. I always want to be with my teammates. I never want to miss time.”
Mercado had worked hard in the offseason to get ready for the football season. He gave up playing baseball in order to concentrate on football.
“I was hitting the weight room regularly,” Mercado said. “It was a very tough decision for me to give up baseball, but it was something I felt I had to do.”
So Mercado makes the sacrifice to prepare for the football season and it all comes crashing down on one freak play.
“I’m not mad at Jacob,” Mercado said. “He’s a great friend.”
Hoboken head coach Lou Taglieri, who was also out of commission for several weeks after gall bladder surgery, was counting on Mercado to be a major part of his backfield.
“We knew he’s a really good running back,” Taglieri said. “He has great speed. Once he gets it in the open field, he’s gone. When he broke his hand, it was a big loss for us.”
Mercado came back to play last week in a crucial game for the Red Wings, traveling to the most northwestern part of Morris County to face Jefferson, an NJSIAA Group III playoff team.
“You could see the kids were ready to play,” said Taglieri, who also made his return to the coaching sidelines as Mercado made his return to action. “Our coaches even said that they were ready. They reacted differently because they knew there was a lot on the line. It was good motivation for us. We controlled our own destiny to become the No. 1 seed [in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 1].”
“I had the biggest smile on my face that I was able to come back,” Mercado said. “It meant everything to me.”
However, things weren’t going well for the Red Wings. Jefferson scored a touchdown on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead and just completed a pass down to the Hoboken 1-yard line, poised to make the score 14-0 in the first quarter.
If the Red Wings would have surrendered the second touchdown, the chances of victory would have been slim.
Jefferson’s sensational senior quarterback J.R. Reese, the son of New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, called for a bootleg to the outside. But Reese was sacked by DeShawn Reed and Dante Bass and fumbled the ball.
“It was a great sack and the ball popped out,” Taglieri said.
Nearby was an alert Mercado.
“I was right beside Bass and as soon as he hit him [Reese], the ball came out and took two good bounces,” Mercado said. “It went right to my hands.”
Mercado just took off, racing for the end zone.
“I was running down our sidelines and heard all of my teammates cheering,” Mercado said. “Once I started running, I knew nothing was going to stop me, not until I got in the end zone.”
Mercado danced his way to a 99-yard touchdown that totally changed the face of the game. Instead of being a two-touchdown deficit, the game was tied.
“It was huge,” Taglieri said. “If we go down 14 points, we have problems. It went from not looking good to the game being in our favor. It was an enormous surprise more than anything else.”
Later in the game, Mercado added two more rushing touchdowns, leading the Red Wings to a huge 40-14 victory.
For his efforts, Mercado has been named as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Taglieri said that Mercado’s defensive play set the tone for the remainder of the game.
“They didn’t get another first down until the fourth quarter,” Taglieri said. “We sacked Reese eight times. They knew what was on the line. They played a great defensive game and Josh made the play of the game.”
After what he had been through, Mercado was more than relieved that he got a chance to play again.
“After the game, I just gave my mom [Mabenis Rodriguez] the biggest hug,” Mercado said. “I have a great time playing football and I missed it. My line blocked well for me on the touchdowns, so I have to give them credit. But this game gave me a lot of confidence. I know now that I still have it. I was able to play like I used to. I was back to the old me.”
Taglieri said that Mercado is just beginning to hit his peak now as a junior.
“He’s just a natural,” Taglieri said. “Depending on what he does in the offseason, he can play himself into a scholarship player. He’s a very good student as well. He’s quiet and leads by example. He’s a true team player. He enjoys the camaraderie that comes with the team. He’s smiling when he’s around his friends. He’s the kind of kid you want to have around.”
As long as Mercado isn’t holding the ball for his friend Fermaint anymore. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.