He didn’t play football two seasons ago, but he’s now Kickapoo’s leading receiver.
Robbie Merced’s future lies in baseball. He is verbally committed to play for Missouri State. But Friday night, he will try to help Kickapoo’s offense move the ball against Rockhurst in the second round of the playoffs.
Merced played football in middle school but gave up the game as a high school freshman to concentrate on baseball. He spent two years watching from the stands before returning to football as a junior.
“I just missed being out here and playing football with all my friends,” Merced said.
Merced is a right-handed hitting infielder with pop in his bat and speed on the base paths. Baseball is in the blood. Merced’s father, Puerto Rican-born Orlando Merced, played 13 seasons of Major League Baseball for seven different teams from 1990 to 2003. Orlando Merced resides in Puerto Rico, where he is a coach, while Robbie Merced lives in Springfield with his mother. Despite the distance, Robbie Merced said he speaks with his father often, usually about baseball.
“We talk a lot and he’s always helping me with anything I need,” Merced said. “It’s cool to see what he has to say about the game. He knows so much that I can just learn off of him.”
Merced’s summer was a busy one, with time split between baseball games and football workouts.
“Right after spring ball ended, we went straight into summer baseball, and summer pride for football was intermixing with some of the last tournaments, so it was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it,” Merced said.
Merced caught 18 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. He broke out as a wide receiver this season to lead the Chiefs with 38 receptions, 658 yards and seven touchdowns. Kickapoo coach Kurt Thompson likes Merced’s work ethic and attitude toward football.
“(Merced) is the kid that shows up and works hard every day—been a dream come true as far as coaching him,” Thompson said.
Kickapoo’s top receivers from 2015, Mason Pack and Malachi Stout, both graduated and are now playing college football. Their graduations made room for Merced and wide receiver Corey Dye to break out.
“We lost a couple of key players like Mason (Pack) and Malachi (Stout), but I think we really stepped up in the skill spots. Corey Dye has been awesome for us,” Merced said. “We’ve really been able to put together a team that can go score and do some great things.”
Thompson notes that Dye and Merced both play selflessly at the wide receiver spots.
“Corey has had a fabulous year. We knew last year he was a playmaker,” Thompson said. “He does what we know he can do. I mean, we see that every day in practice. What’s good about Corey is you have to kick him out of every drill. He wants to be on every scout team.”
Senior quarterback Chris Lawson also took on a larger role. Lawson has completed 64 percent of his passes this season for 1,742 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“(Lawson) is extremely good, he can put the football anywhere he wants and it’s awesome,” Merced said.
Offense will be key for Kickapoo (9-1) when the Rockhurst Hawklets (7-2) come to Springfield Friday night for the News-Leader Game of the Week presented by Murney Associates, Realtors.
“I think we’re going to have to move the football. They have a really good defense, a really good offense,” Merced said of Rockhurst.
Thompson agrees with Merced’s assessment of Rockhurst.
“Everybody I’ve talked to said how good of a defensive football team they are, and that shows on video,” Thompson said of Rockhurst. “They don’t have any weak spots, they force turnovers, and they make it hard for people to score.”
A win would put Kickapoo in the Class 6 District 4 championship game, which doubles as a playoff quarterfinal. It would also extend Merced’s football career with his friends at least one more week, before he turns his mind to baseball for good.