Pats M & M boys are all-season aces

They say that three sport athletes don’t exist anymore.

They say that athletes specialize in one sport and play it year round.

But they don’t know North Middlesex’s Jon Malcolm and Mike Mercurio.

This Dynamic Duo is not only a pair of three-sport athletes, they compete in a trio of the most rugged sports around- football, hockey and lacrosse. This winter, as senior captains of the Patriots’ hockey team, will mark the fifth consecutive high school sports season that Malcolm and Mercurio have been teammates.

You might think they would be getting sick of each other by now.

Not even close.

“Mike Mercurio brings more to the team than any average kid,” said Jon Malcolm. “He has always stood out on the ice as one of the best players, no matter what level of

play. He leads by the way he plays and the intensity of the team rises when Mike excels.

“It seems that at the right time Mike will make a play that lifts a team’s confidence,” said Malcolm. “He is not the most vocal leader, but often times leading by example is more effective for the team. Mike’s size is underestimated because even though he is smaller than most on the ice, he is strong on his feet and is very hard to knock off the puck.

“He is a tough kid and is not afraid to battle in the corner with anyone,” said Malcolm. “I think his strength complements his talent, which makes him a very effective player.”

“Jon Malcolm is a very talented athlete,” said Mike Mercurio. “He is a great leader because he is a motivating person in the locker room, which is essential for a big game. His size is an important addition to the team because he brings a physical aspect to our team’s performance. Even though he is big, he has great speed and always gives his best effort, regardless of the opponent. He loves every part of being physical, including giving and taking hits.

“This is important because a big hit will really fire up our team,” said Mercurio. “It is great when we play together because I always know where he is on the ice, due to the many years we have played together, and I enjoy the game more when playing with him.”

At first sighting, Malcolm would appear to be the size and physicality, while Mercurio appears to be the speed and finesse, but more frequent viewings highlight the other side of each. Malcolm doesn’t mind going through an obstacle, but has the moves to also go around it. Mercurio adds an underrated toughness to his considerable skills, and thrives in any kind of game.

Malcolm has played football for four years at North Middlesex while Mercurio had never played the sport until he was a junior, at any level. Not surprisingly, it was Malcolm who talked his friend into giving it a try.

“Jon convinced me to play and I ended up starting to like it,” said Mike. “When I first when to practice I had a lot to learn.”

“Mike hadn’t played before, but he was just a good athlete,” said North Middlesex head football coach John Margarita, who returned to the sidelines the same year Mike started playing. “We bounced him all over the place and it took him half the season to start to get comfortable. He became our change of pace back during the middle of his junior season, and his play made him a leading candidate to start as a senior.”

“I had heard that Jon was a good athlete and I watched films of him play as a sophomore,” said Margarita. “He played some at running back late that season and he had a natural gait for a running back. We thought he was a natural running back so we put him in the backfield. He turned into a power back for us and made a lot of breakaway runs.

“Jon is faster on the field than on the track and has good football speed. He also proved that he could get the maximum on plays when the hole wasn’t there and that was important. Jon also was a good blocker and receiver out of the backfield, and defensively at linebacker, he was a hard hitter.

“Jon and Mike were leaders for us and gave everything they had,” added Margarita. “They are just great kids and were pleasures to coach. Both are the whole packages and are excellent students, athletes, citizens and leaders.”

When Malcolm and Mercurio were asked what their favorite sport was, they agreed on hockey.

“I really like how fast-paced it is,” said Mercurio.

“I just love hockey,” said Malcolm.

Mercurio is a swift, high-scoring center while Malcolm anchors the defense with his hard-hitting and offensive abilities. Mercurio led the team in scoring last season and leads again this year, while Malcolm is an outstanding two-way defenseman.

Jon is a captain and Mike is an alternate captain on this year’s team that is very highly regarded, and they share a common goal.

“We want to win a state championship,” they said.

“I think we have the team to do it this year,” said Mercurio. “We have a lot of diggers and kids who work hard.”

“We have the talent to do it,” said Malcolm. “We’ve got a very good team and we need some more banners.”

“Jon is a leader who wants to win,” said North Middlesex hockey coach Billy Graves. “He is smart both athetically and academically. He is a very good all-around defenseman who is playing the best defense he has ever played this year. He’s not rushing as much as he used to, but he’s doing a nice job of picking his spots.

“Mike is quiet and keeps to himself, but he goes out and does his job,” said Graves. “He is an offensive presence for us and always gives 100 percent effort. He knows how to finish. Both Mike and Jon are great kids.”

When spring comes around, Jon and Mike will be dusting off the lacrosse sticks for their second varsity season.

“I was one of the first kids to play it around here,” said Mercurio. “Lacrosse sounded a lot like hockey.”

“I just decided to pick it up,” said Malcolm. “It was a new challenge and is just more of a fun sport to play.”

Malcolm and Mercurio were key components of the North Middlesex lacrosse team that played its first-ever varsity season a year ago, and was outstanding, winning 14 of 16 regular-season games and splitting two post-season contests.

“Mike has been with us since we started North Middlesex Youth Lacrosse,” said North MIddlesex boys varsity lacrosse coach Burke Bero. “He has been an attackman the entire time because of his quickness, soft hands, and his ability to create and finish. He is a tough kid who leads by example in games. Mike is ferocious at riding, which is impeding the other team’s offense trying to come up the field. He chases the ball down and creates havoc. There is no fiercer competitor, as he is quiet but he plays the game with a passion.”

“Jon is also a fierce competitor and is a leader who will get vocal and pump the team up,” said Bero. “He is a defenseman and is tough and has a quick stick and quick feet. He reads the field nicely and positions himself accordingly. He doesn’t get out of position often, but if he does, he has the ability to recover quickly. Jon started playing lacrosse as a freshman, but he has developed quickly and was the best defenseman in our league last year.

“Both Mike and Jon were instrumental in our success last season,” added Bero. “Mike scored the overtime goal against Groton Dunstable that kept our winning streak going because he stepped up and created, while Jon does a great job of keeping other teams from getting back into games. They both are a pleasure to coach and both are a lot of fun and listen.”

Is there any single accomplishment within the sports they play that give Mercurio and Malcolm a particular thrill?

“I really like scoring a nice goal in hockey,” said Mike, “making a couple of moves and putting a shot top shelf.”

“Making a big hit in football,” said Jon, “a nice clean hit.”

As the calendar has flipped into 2006, the end of the Dynamic Duo’s careers at North Middlesex is not that far ahead. How would each like to be remembered after they’re gone?

“I would like to be remembered as someone who gave it his all on both the field and the rink,” said Mercurio, who wants to take up mechanical engineering in college and wants to play hockey. U-Mass.-Dartmouth is his first choice.

“I want to be remembered that I expected the most out of everyone, including myself,” said Malcolm, who would like to play a sport in college, preferably hockey, and major in criminal justice or business management.

Both Mike and Jon realize that their successful careers came with plenty of help, and that many deserve credit for being there and contributing.

“I would like to thank my parents, Jon’s dad Richard, and all the coaches that I have played for,” said Mike.

“I would like to thank my parents, Mike’s dad, Mike. and my uncle Steve for always being there,” said Jon. “Also, I would like to thank coach Margarita and all the other football coaches, as well as Mr. O’Shea, who has done a lot in support for every team in the school.”

“We would also like to thank Paul Breault,” they said. “He was a hockey coach who would do anything for us.”

Mike Mercurio and Jon Malcolm are throwbacks to better days. They have played as hard and well as they could, been leaders that set the tone for their teams, and have been coachable and willing to learn. They both are gifted athletes, but enhanced their natural abilities with the intangibles that set the best student-athletes apart.