A decade or longer ago, when Will Mayhew was serving as a ball boy at Charlotte men's soccer games, he never thought he might be playing for the 49ers someday.
When he signed a letter of intent to play soccer at Wake Forest, saying he always wanted to play in the ACC, it seemed impossible he would ever wear Charlotte's green and gold.
But after a medical redshirt year with the Deacons, sitting out the 2009 season with mononucleosis, Mayhew asked Wake to release him from his scholarship. Less than a week later, Mayhew, a graduate of Concord's Jay M. Robinson High School, committed to transferring to Charlotte.
Two games into his first season, Mayhew has established himself as a starter at midfield. Coming off a preseason top-25 ranking, the 49ers opened the season with a loss at UNC Greensboro, then won their home opener Sept. 4 over Elon.
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Foot injury, then illness
When Mayhew arrived for summer classes at Wake in 2009, he was still recuperating from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot that had nagged him during his final two high school years. It hadn't been enough to stop him from earning all-state honors as a senior.
On the final day of summer classes, when he was just starting to run on the foot again, Mayhew started feeling ill. It was about a week and a half before the soccer team's preseason, and university doctors told him he had mono and needed to rest.
After consulting a family physician in Concord, Mayhew and his parents, Bruce and Jan, decided trying to be a dedicated teammate, attending practices and games, would still be too rigorous for Will's body. Mayhew withdrew from school and returned to Concord for the semester.
During those few months, he built up his strength and helped his old coach at Robinson, Michael Hoke, with the soccer team. For the spring semester, Mayhew returned to Wake and rejoined the soccer team for off-season workouts.
"At Wake, I wasn't the best player on field," says Mayhew. "But I was playing well. In a couple of spring games, I earned a starting position. I was playing right back, which was a new position for me."
But he told Wake Forest he wanted to play closer to home and asked to be released from his scholarship. He asked that three schools be notified, including Charlotte.
49ers coach connects
A couple of days later, he received a phone call from 49ers coach Jeremy Gunn, who recruited Mayhew in high school and remembered when he was the MVP of a summer elite camp he hosted before Mayhew's high school junior year.
"As a collegiate coach, you and your staff spend year-round scouting the top talent in country and in the world," Gunn said. "When you have a great soccer player and such a great young man such as Will show an interest, you feel very fortunate."
Unlike in NCAA sports such as football and basketball, soccer players who transfer do not have to sit out a year of eligibility. Because Mayhew redshirted last season, he still has four years of eligibility left.
Mayhew wasn't able to join the 49ers until preseason practice officially began Aug. 14. He is back playing a more natural position for him, outside midfield.
It's been an easy transition for Mayhew, and not just because the Charlotte campus is a few miles from his home. He grew up playing with or against several current 49ers players, including Robert May, Jennings Rex, Klay Davis, Pat Eavenson and Tyler Gibson.
"It's nice walking around campus and seeing people you grew up with," Mayhew said. "And people that saw me growing up can see me play as a collegiate athlete.
"Through everything, I still have people that support me, and it adds to my confidence and what I can do."