Q&A with Mercer play-by-play announcer Rick Cameron

Aug. 30—OXFORD — The Daily Journal caught up with Mercer radio play-by-play announcer Rick Cameron to see what he considers the keys to the Ole Miss-Mercer matchup.

Quarterback play from Fred Payton was such a big reason for Mercer's offensive fireworks in 2022 (38.2 ppg). Carter Peevy is now the quarterback; what kind of player is he, and what's expected of him on a game-to-game basis? How much is on his plate?

Carter Peevy was first recruited by head coach Drew Cronic to join him at Lenoir Rhyne and when coach was hired at Mercer, Peevy was anxious to accompany him to Macon. The two came in during the awkwardness of the pandemic. Peevy quarterbacked the Bears successfully in the three non-conference games in the fall of 2020 and the eight Southern Conference games in the spring of 2021. He was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year. When Fred Payton transferred to Mercer from Coastal Carolina, Peevy overcame the situation of the veteran Payton becoming the starter by working hard the last two years to improve his physical stature while knowing, when he returned as the starter this fall, he would have three years of eligibility remaining, At 6-3 and 220, our radio crew noticed in the first game this past Saturday that when Peevy ran the football it was like a running back and never looking just to slide for a first down like a quarterback will sometimes do. Peevy has the luxury of going under center behind a veteran offensive line and throwing to two of the most talented receivers in college football.

Devron Harper was a Walter Payton Award finalist last season. What makes him so special, and how much of the offense's success is on his shoulders, especially with his kick returning prowess/potential to change field position?

Devron Harper is an electric football player who is a game changer. I am uncertain how many college football players can affect the outcome of a game in four ways: kick returner, punt returner, receiver and even running the football. You have to love his confidence to succeed and the desire to want the football in any situation. Among Devron's traits — if not his best — is his ability to force missed tackles in the open field. He can turn on a dime. Devron is the type guy who folks love to rally behind and he has become a fan favorite with Mercer fans. It also helps that also on the field most plays with Harper is teammate Ty James, who runs pass routes extremely well and averaged 21.3 yards a catch last season. These two combined in 2022 had 130 catches, 2,092 yards and 23 touchdowns. Harper and James have both been named to the 2024 Senior Bowl Watch List.

Mercer played a Week 0 game against North Alabama and came away with a 17-7 win. What was the big takeaway from that matchup, and do you think having already played a game before facing Ole Miss is an advantage?

I can't really say how much of an advantage it is for Mercer against Ole Miss to have played a game already but coaches will tell you the most improvement for a team will come from game one to game two. I'm sure the Mercer coaches were able to identify areas in which to work before coming to Oxford this week. The UNA game last week gave Peevy a chance to get a game under his belt back as the starter, which is very important. A 90-minute lightning delay early in the third quarter was another obstacle to overcome on a day when the game time temperature was over 100 degrees and the heat index was oppressive. Another point of observation, I personally feel that the Lions are a much improved football team and will win a lot of games this year. This win for the Bears could look even better later in the season.

What can you tell me about the Bears' defense? What is the strength, and what is the key for them slowing down Ole Miss?

Returning 10 starters on defense is certainly a strength for the 2023 Mercer football team. There are all-conference players on the defensive line, among the backers and in the secondary. I believe I counted three times in the UNA game when the Mercer defense stopped the Lions on 4th down with a yard or less to go for the first down. This is a group that has played a lot of football and a lot of football together as a unit. Isaac Dowling, who was named the most valuable player Saturday at the FCS Kickoff, is on the Buck Buchanan Award Preseason Watch List. Everyone associated with Mercer football is aware of the talent of this Ole Miss football team and the challenge of playing in Vaught-Hemingway.

Mercer is a ranked FCS team that had a strong 2022 season and expects a big 2023 campaign. What is the expectation for the Bears this weekend in Oxford, and what things have to happen for Mercer to have a chance?

Coach Cronic is the type guy who coaches his players to play within themselves, to do their job and not try to do someone else's, and don't get creative, to play as you have been coached. In now his fourth season, this team has totally bought into his theme of "Love, Compete and Believe" and seek to regularly "Raise the Bar." A testament to their loyalty is the fact that Mercer lost only a couple of players to the transfer portal. These guys really believe in the direction in which this coaching staff is leading them. Back to your question, I guess I am old-school enough to believe that turnovers and special teams can still determine a football game many times. For Mercer to have its best shot, the Bears need to win the turnover battle, have very limited penalties and not have any errors in special teams play.