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Antonio Mercado might be one of the last three-sport athletes.
He definitely is one of the first three-school athletes.
In an era of increasing specialization, Mercado is probably South Jersey's most versatile athlete. He is surely the most colorful.
Mercado doesn't just suit up for a different team in the fall, winter, and spring. He represents a different school in each season.
"It's a lot of fun," Mercado said. "The best part is, you get to meet different people in different environments."
Mercado, a burly junior, attends Pennsauken Tech. He plays baseball for the Tornados, serving as catcher, cleanup hitter, and team leader, according to coach Rob Bryan.
Mercado wears maroon and gray in the spring.
Mercado wrestles for Camden. He was the Panthers' top grappler last season, advancing to the state tournament in Atlantic City and just beginning to tap into his potential, according to coach Sandy Thame.
Mercado wears purple and gold in the winter.
Mercado plays football for Woodrow Wilson. He was one of the Tigers' top offensive and defensive linemen, according to coach Preston Brown.
Mercado wears black and orange in the fall.
"It keeps me busy," Mercado said. "But I like it. It's very adventurous. It challenges you to play different sports for different schools and get along with different people."
Mercado is a top player in all three sports, excelling in football and wrestling in particular.
He is able to play sports for three different schools under NJSIAA rules. Woodrow Wilson is the public school in his district, so he is allowed to play football for the Tigers because Pennsauken Tech doesn't field a football team.
And since Pennsauken Tech and Woodrow Wilson don't have a wrestling team, Mercado is allowed to compete for Camden, the public school in his district that offers the sport.
"It's really something special," Pennsauken Tech athletic director Alice Conley said. "We're all so proud of him."
Brown said Mercado will be a scholarship player in football. He was an offensive guard and defensive tackle for the Tigers and also served as the team's long-snapper.
"Antonio is the definition of force: mass times acceleration," Brown said. "We call him '52 pick-up' because every time he pulls at guard he knocks someone down. He is unblockable [on defense], super quick out of his stance, and one of best long-snappers in the area."
Mercado said his football experience is among his most interesting, especially since Woodrow Wilson plays against Camden on Thanksgiving Day. In that game, he competes against future wrestling teammates.
"One day they're my enemies, and the next day they're my friends," Mercado said of Camden athletes. "I'm their friendly enemy."
Mercado said wrestling might be his favorite sport because of the challenge of competing by himself in the circle against athletes who often tower over him and outweigh him as well.
Competing in the 285-pound weight class, Mercado was 22-8 as a junior, taking second in District 27 and third in Region 7. He advanced to the state tournament and won three bouts in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, just missing a spot on the podium as one of the state's top eight wrestlers in his weight class.
"Wrestling shows what I am really made of," Mercado said. "It shows my mind-set, that I'll never quit. I went to Atlantic City, and I'm like 5-9 and I was competing against guys who were 6-foot, 6-2, and have a lot of pounds on me, and I showed I could do it."
Thame said Mercado missed some time early in the wrestling season with a back ailment, but was among South Jersey's top grapplers by March.
"He did an absolutely fantastic job," Thame said. "Everything we asked him to do, he did. And he got better and better. To go to Atlantic City and win three times and just miss getting on the podium, that tells you how good he was. And he's only going to get better."
Mercado's biggest impact on the baseball field so far this season has been as a leader, according to his head coach.
"He doesn't get a chance to work on his swing the rest of the year," Bryan said. "So he's still smoothing that out. It'll come. He hit a couple of home runs for us last year.
"The best thing about Antonio is his leadership, and that's something that we really need with a young team. He's vocal, positive, a player the younger guys can look up to."
Mercado lives in the Cramer Hill section of Camden. He attended East Camden Middle School.
Mercado said he decided to attend Pennsauken Tech to study carpentry. He said he hopes to someday join a carpenter's union, or perhaps run his own business.
"My dad [also named Antonio Mercado] is a union mason, and it's something that I know and like," Mercado said.
Mercado said he loves wearing a different set of colors every season. He said he loves being a Tiger in the fall, a Panther in the winter, and a Tornado in the spring.
"It's a cool experience," Mercado said. "Every season, I get to meet a different group of people."
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