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Welcomed Addition: Mercer’s Faulkner makes successful jump to football

Everyone knows Trevon Faulkner, the basketball player.

If Mercer County football coach David Buchanan is right, many more people are going to know Trevon Faulkner, the football player.

Faulkner, a star on the Titans’ basketball team who averaged 18.6 points and 5.9 rebounds last season, joined the football team three games ago, and his impact has been immediate. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound junior leads the team with three interceptions from his free safety spot, where Buchanan called him the best he’s coached in 16 years.

“When he’s a free safety, I’d think twice about throwing the ball between the hash marks. He can cover that much ground,” Buchanan said. “He’s that good in what, just three games. He’s a doggone good player. He can cover a lot of ground.”

The decision to play football was influenced by the Titans boys basketball team’s coaching change. While Faulkner said former coach Josh Cook didn’t forbid him to play football, it was discouraged.

“He didn’t want me to, he didn’t want to risk it, didn’t want me to get hurt,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner isn’t scared to get hurt, and new basketball coach Kurt Young isn’t concerned, either. He’s completely on board with Faulkner playing football, even with the risk of injury derailing the basketball season.

“You don’t want to see any kid get hurt, but he could get hurt playing a pickup game or going through a workout on the basketball court,” Young said. “… I think it’s going to be great for Trevon. Yeah, you want to be greedy and have your kids do your sport 24/7, but I think we’ve lost a lot because of that. He’s going to gain a lot because of this.

“When he comes back, I think he’s going to be hungry, along with the other football kids. Our job is to peak at the end of the year, to peak during tournament time.”

Up to now, Faulkner’s athletic future appeared to be in basketball; he’s already picked up scholarship offers from Wright State in Ohio and Middle Tennessee State. But Buchanan believes the ceiling could be even higher in football, saying Faulkner, who played football in middle school and as a freshman, could be a BCS-level recruit with his size and skill.

This is the first time in his career Buchanan has allowed a player to join the football team in the middle of the season. He made the exception for Faulkner because of a variety of reasons, including giving college coaches a chance to see him this season.

The impact Faulkner has had on the football team hasn’t just occurred on the field, according to Buchanan, who brought up the quality of character and his experience winning at a high level. The coach said this adjustment and late addition wouldn’t have worked had Faulkner not been a positive personality.

“I thought the right thing to do was to allow him on the team, and he’s made it the right decision because of his actions,” Buchanan said. “He’s worked his tail off, he’s got a great attitude with his teammates. He’s hit a home run with his teammates. Yes, he’s a very talented young man, there’s no question about that, but he’s just really been a guy I’m glad I’ve got in our locker room. He’s made it work because of his attitude and work ethic.”

In addition to the members of the football team who won a state track title last year, Faulkner has success in basketball. The Titans were ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the season and finished 33-2 with an appearance in the state tournament.

“Winning a state title or region championship, that’s not an overwhelming idea for our kids,” Buchanan said. “They see that all the time in our school.”

There are benefits in his basketball game from Faulkner playing football. An increased level of toughness, the extra competition he experiences in a live-action sport and working with teammates through another team-sport season are just a few reasons Faulkner could come into the basketball season better than before.

Young, who has spent 20 years coaching in the college ranks, has seen certain skills disappearing from high school athletes as more of them focus on one sport. The thought is athletes like Trevon will gain different skill sets from other sports they couldn’t get by only playing basketball, such as hand-eye coordination from baseball and the ease of catching a basketball after catching a football. Plus, there’s the issue of becoming tougher.

“He’s going to learn how to make plays through contact, hopefully a lot more contact than he’ll see on the basketball court,” Young said. “There are so many positives to it.”

Buchanan brought up Chris Lofton, a Mr. Basketball winner at Mason County who also happened to be a first-team All-State football player for Buchanan before going on to a successful career at the University of Tennessee and then the NBA. He said Lofton didn’t play football to make him tougher or better at basketball but only because he loved the sport. And he sees the same with Faulkner.

There are also skills he brings to the football field which remind Buchanan of watching a basketball game.

“They can anticipate a pass and they break on it and react, and the next thing you know they’ve got it and headed the other way,” Buchanan said. “… Those guys are used to playing in space, they’re used to anticipating a pass and where the ball’s going, they already know the angles. There are things built into playing the secondary that go along with being a good basketball player. That’s why I always want my skill guys to play basketball, there’s a lot of carryover.”

Other than remaining injury free, the biggest issue facing Faulkner’s decision to play football is getting back on the court. The Titans’ final regular season football game is exactly one month before the basketball team’s first game, and that can be blown up if the Titans win a few games in the postseason.

However, missing time on the court doesn’t concern Faulkner.

“If we make it deep in the playoffs, that’s something I want, that’s why I came onto the football team, to get a championship,” Faulkner said. “It really doesn’t bother me. I’ll miss it, but at the same time it really wouldn’t bother me because I’m still doing great things for the football team.”

Joining the football team a couple of weeks into the season and playing his first game in Week 4 wasn’t ideal, and Faulkner admits he had to play catch up. But he’s already made it clear — there will be no catching up next year. He’ll be back with the football team from day one.

And that’s a decision Faulkner, Buchanan and Young can all live with.

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn