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By Shelby Mack / The Californian
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The uniform colors are different, but when Mercy Maston, Alfonso Jackson and Chris Hannible line up together in the Bakersfield College defensive backfield Saturday night against Santa Ana College, it'll be like they've been there before.
In 2009, the three were in the defensive backfield at Bakersfield High.
"I was the safety, Chris was Driller (a hybrid outside linebacker/safety combo) and Alfonso was the corner," said Maston, a sophomore who has become one of the leaders on BC's defense.
Maston is the only one who played at BC last season. A starter from Day 1, he tied for the team lead with four interceptions, blocked two kicks, broke up five passes and had 31 tackles despite missing three games with turf toe.
"It's fine now," Maston said of last season's injury. He actually returned to part-time duty in BC's season-ending win over College of the Canyons.
"I don't count the Canyons game because I didn't start," Maston said. "I only got in a good 10 plays."
Jackson, a BC starter and all-conference player in 2010, was academically ineligible last season. Hannible was Bakersfield High's starting quarterback last season, when he led the Drillers to a 13-0 Central Section Division I championship and was named The Californian's All-Area Player of the Year.
"Being back on the field again is nice, period," Jackson said. "I missed it a lot. I didn't know how much I would miss it until I missed the whole season."
Jackson has refocused his life with this opportunity, he said.
"It's a second chance and I'm a lot more mature," he said. "I'm just learning to stay focused. Everything is coming back."
Hannible played sparingly on the Drillers' defense last season -- usually on third-and-long or end of game situations -- while he focused on quarterback.
"I miss it a little bit," Hannible said of the quarterback position, which is manned by another Bakersfield High product, Brian Burrell. Hannible is facing a bigger learning curve than Maston and Jackson had because he hasn't played at the community college level before.
"There are so many different coverages," Hannible said. "We didn't do too many different coverages in high school.
"Now it comes down to detail. Every step counts. Every detail counts."
BC coach Jeff Chudy said the three have impressed in practice.
"Those three have the ability to lock people down and make things happen," Chudy said. "We're going to need that. We're going to need them to shut it down on third down and get the ball turned over.
"Hopefully those guys will be as active as they have been in practice making things happen."
Maston said he recalls his freshman year and the adjustments he faced with the better competition compared to high school and the challenges posed by BC's pass-happy opponents.
"I came into JC football thinking the talent wouldn't be that good," Maston said. "I figured there might be a couple of guys who could play NAIA or Division II athletes. But there's a lot of guys who can play."
Maston's welcome-to-JC football moment came on a tackle.
"When I came up for the hit, I felt it," he said.
Chudy said Maston has stepped up his game.
"He's healthy and he's training extremely hard," Chudy said. "He's got a chance to be as good a corner as we've had at Bakersfield College."
Jackson "is trying to redeem himself," Chudy said.
"He sat out last year and has come back with a sense of purpose. He realizes this is his last harrah. The commitment level is there and he's a lot more consistent than he's been since he came into the program.
"We all learn life's lessons all the time and I think he has. He's shown his maturity level has picked up a notch."
Hannible is getting a crash course of what to expect, Chudy said.
"He plays with a lot of energy. Like any freshman, it's a learning curve. He's getting his eyes opened up on what the college game is. It's comforting to him to have Mercy back there, whom he's played with before.
"Hopefully those guys are going to create a lot of havoc for those offensive football teams we'll be playing."