Not many high school student-athletes go on to play in college, let alone at a Division I university in their hometown.
But some at Mercer University have done just that, and these student-athletes say attending college in their hometown has given them both academic and athletic opportunities, as well as a way to be close to the community where they grew up.
There are currently 11 student-athletes from Macon on Mercer’s athletic rosters, including golf, football, basketball, tennis and baseball. Here are some of their stories.
Freshman Travion Solomon, a wide receiver on the football team, grew up in Macon and attended Mercer basketball games.
As a student at Northeast High School, Solomon had interest from Mercer’s men’s basketball and football teams. He ultimately decided to sign a full-scholarship offer for football and plans to walk on to the men’s basketball team after football season.
The ability to play college football in front of his community, friends and family was appealing, he said.
“It gives a lot of people in the city a reason to come here and support (the Bears),” he said. “A lot of the younger kids that look up to me, they like coming to the games, as well.”
As the first student-athlete from Northeast High to suit up for the Bears’ football team, Solomon gets a lot of support from his former school.
“I’ve had an opportunity to attend a few of his games, and I can say that Travion brings a village to the Mercer game. Former coaches attend, (and) several teachers come to support Travion,” said Jarred Moore, assistant principal at Northeast High. “The community really rallies behind Travion and supports him on his journey at Mercer University.”
Solomon, who is undecided on a major, said the professors have been helpful, and the coaches have pushed him to succeed.
“They want to see you win,” he said. “They want the best for you outside of football, as well.”
Carol Pyon of the women’s golf team received her undergraduate degree in marketing from Mercer’s School of Business in spring 2022. She decided to return to the University to get her Master of Business Administration while finishing her fifth and final year of eligibility. She also works with the Athletics Marketing Department.
Growing up in Macon, she attended Rutland High School, playing golf with her dad from as early as she can remember. As a member of a golf course where the Mercer team used to practice, other members mentioned her name to Coach Michele Drinkard, who saw her play. Pyon said when her golf scores were good enough, she got an offer from Mercer.
Academics were a key reason why Pyon decided to sign with Mercer. She said she researched what some of Mercer’s alumni were doing and how some of them continued on to prestigious graduate programs.
“Academically, I knew (Mercer) had a very good undergrad program,” she said.
Athletically, the golf teams often travel outside of Georgia for competitions, but Mercer always hosts home invitationals where family and friends can attend.
“The home energy is always different from playing an away game,” Pyon said.
Her sister, Eujin Pyon, is also on the golf team.
“We just always have each other’s back,” she said. “And it’s just always good having someone that knows your game as well as you do.”
Being close to home also means that she’s able to get help from her dad, who is her swing coach.
“Whenever there’s something going on with my game, like my swing and stuff, I just need to give my dad a call, and he’s always on standby to help me,” she said.
Over her first four years at Mercer, Pyon racked up many accolades, such as being a member of the 2021 Academic All-Southern Conference Team, a Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholar, and a participant in the 2021 NCAA Louisville Regional, according to Mercer Athletics.
“I have a lot of respect for my coach,” Pyon said. “And I love the girls on the team.”
Close to family
Graduate student and women’s basketball player Brittany Reeves is a transfer student who decided to finish her eligibility at Mercer after being away from Macon for four years.
Growing up, Reeves attended many Mercer basketball games. But after not getting any Division I offers out of high school, she moved to Kansas to pursue her college basketball goals. She played at Independence Community College in Kansas before signing to play Division I hoops for Oklahoma State University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in sociology.
She said she decided to return to Macon because she was not able to visit her family often. In her last year at Oklahoma State, she caught COVID-19 and wasn’t able to go home for Christmas, which she said impacted her transfer decision.
Now at Mercer for her fifth and final year, Reeves is getting her master’s degree in higher education leadership, can go home whenever she wants, and is able to have family and friends at events such as the tip-off event in Mercer Village in October.
“It means a lot, and I’m just really excited for this upcoming basketball season,” she said. “What I’m most excited about is people seeing my growth. They actually get to see it firsthand now.”
At Howard High School, Reeves played under her role model, Latavia Coleman, the school’s girls basketball head coach and athletic director. Coleman is a Macon native who went on to play basketball at Florida State before returning home to coach.
“Brittany has worked hard since I’ve known her. She did everything in her power to make sure she reached her goals, and I’m just proud of her,” Coleman said. “I’m just glad she’s able to come back and finish her last year in front of her home crowd where her family could see.”
She said Reeves’ presence in Macon has made her a positive role model for other local student-athletes.
“They’re all excited to see and to be able to watch Howard kids play at the collegiate level,” she said. “We will be at a lot of games this season.”
Reeves wants other girls in Macon to learn from her story.
“I also want to be able to show them that it takes a lot of hard work — it’s not easy,” she said.