BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
Despite being held at a venue completely unfamiliar to him, tonight's game between Boise State and Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium is a homecoming of sorts for Mercy Maston.
The former Bakersfield High and Bakersfield College standout will have more than 30 family members, numerous friends, and several ex-teammates on hand when he takes the field for the Broncos in their key Mountain West Conference showdown against the Bulldogs.
The junior cornerback will be part of a Boise State defensive unit charged with the unenviable task of trying to slow down another Bakersfield native, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, who has passed for 661 yards and 8 touchdowns in two games this year.
"I've never been to Bulldog Stadium, but it's going to be nice just because I'm going to be (playing) in front of my family," Maston said.
Maston, who is in his first year with the Broncos after transferring from BC, has seen limited playing time so far, but regardless is enjoying his first taste of NCAA Division I college football.
"It's fun," Maston said. "Great coaches. Great players out here. They're all family-oriented. ... I'm just working hard and letting my coaches put me in the right opportunity to do the things to play. I'm not sure what that is. It switches around all the time."
So far this season the 5-foot-11, 196-pound defensive back has recorded six tackles (five solo and one assisted). He's also been credited for one pass broken up, and one pass defended.
Maston said playing D-I football hasn't been much of an adjustment, with one exception.
"The practice tempo is pretty fast," Maston said. "I think we get a lot more done than we did at Bakersfield College."
Maston certainly accomplished a lot during his two-years' worth of games at BC, including tallying 110 tackles (83 solo) and six interceptions, one of which he ran back 76-yards for a touchdown.
He had a team-leading 10 tackles in the Renegades, 35-14, CCCAA state championship game victory over City College of San Francisco last year.
Maston, the nephew of former NFL all-pro cornerback Louis Wright, credits his time at BC for helping him be ready for the rigors of FBS college football.
"Coach (Jeff) Chudy and coach (Reggie) Bolton definitely got me prepared for the atmosphere that I'm in right now," Maston said. "They were basically on me to go hard every snap even though during practice I probably wasn't going against top-tier guys. Both of them just kept telling me to go hard and not take any plays off."
Chudy, the Renegades head coach, calls Maston, "a coach's dream."
"The first day that he stepped on our campus he was focused and had a plan," Chudy said. "He had a game-plan to get to big-time college football. He never got off-track. He was always extremely focused and just had this burning desire to be a major college football player. Didn't get distracted. Didn't get caught up in a lot of things that 18-19 year old kids might do. He spent a ton of time watching film and getting better as a player. He was an extremely hard worker. That's why he's where he's at, because he worked extremely hard."
Maston, who signed with San Jose State out of high school but was forced to go the junior college route because of a SAT score that wasn't quite high enough, has continued that hard work since joining a Boise State program that has a won-loss record of 86-9 since 2006.
While appealing, Maston said it wasn't Boise State's winning tradition that attracted him to the school.
Instead it was his affinity for Broncos' head coach Chris Peterson and the team's secondary coach, Jimmy Lake.
On his recruiting visit to Boise State, Maston attended a game between the Broncos and Bulldogs and in the process gained first-hand knowledge of the teams' fierce rivalry.
Boise State enters tonight's game with a 2-1 record. The Broncos opened the season by losing to Washington before bouncing back to beat Tennessee-Martin and Air Force.
Fresno State is 2-0. The Bulldogs beat Rutgers and Cal Poly behind a pair of prolific performances from Carr, a Bakersfield Christian graduate.
"We're all amped for this game," Maston said. "This is a big game for us."
Recruited by Fresno State out of high school and then again while at BC, Maston doesn't have any animosity towards the Bulldogs.
In fact he has several friends that play for Fresno State, including Bulldogs backup quarterback Brian Burrell.
Maston and Burrell were teammates at both BHS and BC. With Burrell as the trigger-man, Maston led BHS in receiving yards (443) and receiving touchdowns (8) his senior year of high school.
The two remain good friends and talk to each other regularly on the phone.
"We've just been keeping in touch basically," Maston said. "That's about it. We haven't been talking about the game."
The two pals plan on chatting more after the final whistle blows tonight.
Maston hopes that conversation comes after he helps Boise State, in whatever way he can, get a win.
"My role is to just go hard every time I get the chance," Maston said. "Just step in and carry the flag of what coach Peterson says."
For Maston the opportunity to do those things, especially with so many friends and family watching him like they will be at Bulldog Stadium, is something special.
"I'm living my dream out right now," he said.