The Merced football team had a special guest speaker on Wednesday when Detroit Tigers pitcher and Merced native Doug Fister stopped by.
Fister talked to the players about what it takes to play at the highest level. It's not often high school kids have an opportunity to listen to a professional athlete, so Fister had their complete attention.
"That was crazy," Merced senior Errol Dennis said. "It was a life-changing moment. He really talked about how to carry yourself, not only as a player, but as a member of the community. It was incredible."
For Dennis, Wednesday's interaction with Fister was another experience in what has been a memorable senior year.
Dennis and the ninth-seeded Bears (7-3) will make their first playoff appearance tonight since 2008 when they travel to Stockton to face No. 8 Lincoln (7-3) in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m..
While most eyes will be fixed on the Trojans' USC-bound running back Justin Davis, Dennis likely will play a key role in whether Merced has a chance pull an upset.
"I think he's going to be a huge part of it," said Bears head coach Rob Scheidt. "When he gets going he takes a lot of pressure off our quarterback (Eli Gutierrez)."
If Dennis and the Bears ground attack has success tonight it will help keep Davis and Lincoln's explosive offense off the field.
Dennis has become a big part of the Bears' offense and defense this year despite his small stature.
He leads the team with 876 rushing yards and six touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
He also has been very good at cornerback. He's fearless in helping stop the run even though he's just 5-foot-9 and 157 pounds.
"It's hard to believe looking at him, but he's been a big-time run stopper,"Scheidt said. "If you watch him every week, there are times where he's in the open field and just lays his hat on people. He did that against Atwater a couple times. He doesn't miss many tackles."
Dennis didn't contribute much as a junior. He came back this year a different player with a greater knowledge of the playbook.
"I worked extremely hard in the offseason," Dennis said. "I ran stairs at Merced College. I worked out with Eli all the time. All the time and effort has paid off this year."
This year he's given the Bears a big-play threat in the ground game. He's the fastest player on a team full of great athletes.
"Offensively, we're a lot better when he's on the field. Same on defense," Scheidt said. "He's one of the brightest minds I've coached as far as football smarts. He really understands situations. He takes pride in his pass protection ... You don't expect that from a 150-pound guy."
How does Dennis do it?
"I have a lot of heart," Dennis said. "I put a lot of effort when I'm out on the field."
Exactly what Fister was talking about when he addressed the team.