Flavio Mercado arrived to Manteca from Michoacán, Mexico mere weeks before his first day of school as a freshman at East Union High.
He left his family behind seeking educational opportunities and found much more. On Wednesday, the soft-spoken Mercado was joined by family, friends and coaches at Dalben Center where he signed his National Letter of Intent to accept a full-ride scholarship to play volleyball for Simpson University in Redding.
“It was tough, but I was ready it,” Mercado said of leaving his home. “I was looking forward to doing new things and volleyball came up. Here I am.”
Here he is, all 6-foot-5 of him.
A natural as a middle blocker, Mercado made the All-Valley Oak League first team his freshman year and was named Most Outstanding Player in 2019. The Lancers captured a share of the league title in 2019 and were 4-1 last year before the statewide coronavirus shutdown.
Simpson coach David Irving is understandably excited to land prospect like Mercado, who has already had experience in a new program. The Redhawks men's volleyball team is in its second year of existence, while East Union is going into Year 5 with its boys volleyball squad.
“The sky is the limit,” East Union coach Chelsea Herrera said of Mercado. “He has helped build this program. He's a big part of this program. Their coach Dave Irving said, 'We have a find,' and I said that I get it — you have a diamond in the rough. He's excited to get to mold him the next four years.”
Mercado was recruited by other four-year universities but remained loyal to Irving and Simpson, who was the first to show interest. The full ride was also hard to turn down.
Mercado had never played volleyball but has a soccer background. He stood out to a physical education teacher in class and was encouraged to join the fledgling boys volleyball team. As he got better, Mercado began to develop a new passion and sought to get better. He has been playing at more competitive levels with Rage Volleyball Club and coach Carl Wheeler, who was among those in attendance along with his assistants on Wednesday.
“Our first year was a 'fun year' with all seniors,” Herrera said. “After that, we had two teams (JV and varsity) and we wanted to get more serious. Flavio walked in and I thought, 'We can actually have a team.'
“He found a love for it and you can see him blossom into this man on the volleyball court. He got to Carl and became a different player. He steps up with the competition. Whether it's school, volleyball or life, he wants to be pushed.”
Mercado plans to study mathematics at Simpson and looking into becoming an actuary .
“I like numbers,” he said with a laugh.
He describes his experience in the United States as “amazing” and does not want to take it for granted. He is especially thankful to his aunt, Lorena Guitron, who has accepted him into her household and provided much of what he needs to succeed in both school and volleyball.
“They really helped me a lot, my aunt especially,” Mercado said. “I am very grateful for her letting me live with her and be a part of her life. I can't thank her enough.
“Everything has been great,” he added. “I have a lot of people by my side helping me out — coaches, family and friends.”