Sawyer Burt knows how Mercer University’s football program is continuing to rise among the NCAA Division I ranks.
That aspect, combined with the school’s academic prowess, made the Fort Payne senior tight end’s decision about his collegiate destination simple.
After committing to the Bears in November, Burt was joined by family, friends and coaches during a signing ceremony at Fort Payne High School on Monday. His signing became official Wednesday.
“It was great and it’s going to start a new chapter in my life, so that’s exciting,” Burt said of sharing his signing celebration with family and friends.
Before Mercer reached out to him, Burt said Austin Peay State University was the only other school he was seriously considering.
“The hardest thing for a tight end is finding a home for them, because not everybody uses a tight end in their offense, and the ones that do may only sign one or two every four years,” Fort Payne head coach Chris Elmore said. “So to find a place that utilizes a tight end and needs a tight end was good for him.”
Mercer, located in Macon, Ga., competes in the Southern Conference and is led by head coach Drew Cronic in his second season with the program.
The Bears finished the 2021 regular season with a 7-3 overall record and a 6-2 conference record, defeating conference foes Furman, Samford, Western Carolina, Wofford, The Citadel and Chattanooga. Their schedule also included Southeastern Conference powerhouse Alabama, a game in which they lost 48-14.
In Cronic’s first season in Macon, Mercer finished 5-6, including a 5-3 mark in conference play. The program has won 53 games since 2013, the year the university’s football program was restarted for the first time in more than 70 years.
Burt, a 6-foot-4, 235-pounder, was one of 15 Mercer signees on national signing day Wednesday. Signees included Christian Hanson, a linebacker who helped Trinity Christian School in Sharpsburg, Ga., to the program’s first state championship game; Daniel Shoch, a quarterback from East Coweta High School in East Coweta, Ga.; Marcus Christian, a linebacker, from Thomas County Central High School in Thomasville, Ga.; and safety Josh Pickett from Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga.
During his senior season at Fort Payne, Burt made 13 receptions for 185 yards and four touchdowns. The Wildcats finished with a 6-5 overall record and 4-2 in Class 6A’s Region 7, capturing the region’s No. 3 postseason seed. They closed with a first-round state playoff loss to Briarwood Christian.
“Sawyer is a big, hard-nosed tight end. He brings an attitude to the game that will allow him to be a major presence on the field,” said Mercer tight ends coach Kevin O’Brien.
Without the familiar presence of Burt, a four-year starter, Elmore knows things will be different for the Wildcats’ offense next season.
“It’s going to be weird on Friday nights next year not seeing him out there,” Elmore said. “...From the first game of his freshman year, he was out there and played a lot in that first game, never really came off the field a whole lot that entire year. It’s pretty rare for freshmen to do that and he was able to do it and continue to get better across the next three years as well.
“He’s been a presence for us. People had to find ways to match up with him because of his length creating problems, so we’re going to miss having his size and strength on the field, for sure.”
Burt was in Mobile this week to play in the annual AHSAA North-South All-Star football game.