July 20, 2018 | ° F

Merrell’s energy becomes contagious during career

Photo by Tian Li |

Senior quarterback Chas Dodd will make his 17th-career start for Rutgers on Saturday night against South Florida. In his last start, Dodd threw 16-for-35 for 286 yards and two interceptions in his last game.

Senior defensive end Jamil Merrell loves to berate, yell at and throw his gloves at Rutgers football kickers in practice.

When the whole team practices field goal situations — generally toward the end of practices — sometimes kickers cannot get the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder out of their faces.

“He just yells a whole bunch of wild junk, like ‘Oh, you can’t kick,’” said senior defensive end Marcus Thompson, cracking up at the thought of it. “Then [after the kick] he’ll say stuff back like, ‘Oh, he got hot.’”

It helps the kickers and Merrell’s teammates watching, he said.

“Just a distraction, trying to get it as game-tempo-like as possible,” Merrell said. “Just to also have a little fun out there. When you have fun, that practice is going to go by a little faster. To have a little fun is a big thing.”

Merrell’s nonstop energy even spills into special teams drills. He keeps his motor running despite not even starting at all this season despite being a team captain.

Even when Merrell barely played as a redshirt freshman in 2009, the defensive line and former head coach Greg Schiano appreciated his and Thompson’s energy, Thompson said.

“When we were here as freshmen, we had [Justin Francis], Scott Vallone,” Thompson said. “They bought off that energy, and I guess Coach saw that in me and ’Mil. So why not put us at d-line? I guess it’s a d-line thing. Me and ’Mil, we’re always loud anyway. It’s a me and ’Mil thing and a d-line thing.”  

But in Merrell’s senior year this season, sophomore Djwany Mera took every start on the strong side and is listed to start tomorrow against South Florida.

It leaves Merrell with a lackluster season, which so far includes 18 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Merrell, a captain, looked on the verge of a big senior season. The Bear, Del., native finished last year with 5.5 sacks, including 3.5 in the final three games.

He missed the first two games with a lower leg injury and said it continues to affect his strength and speed.

At least for the loud, energetic Merrell, he is the roster’s active leader with eight sacks. Most of them came when he transitioned to defensive tackle last year.

Merrell took then-junior Isaac Holmes’ spot at three-technique after Holmes suffered a season-ending wrist injury four games in against Arkansas.

Being a severely undersized 255-pound defensive tackle somehow made Merrell’s job easier.

“They say the game is played by inches, so I would just say with my technique and getting closer to the quarterback, that always helps,” Merrell said.

Schiano sacrificed size for speed on the defensive line, and so far head coach Kyle Flood keeps it the same. Merrell maintains another Rutgers tradition with getting into kickers’ faces.

Merrell saw former Knights Duron Harmon and Ka’lial Glaud do it, and Rameel Meekins did it before him.

Flood appreciates the tradition, and someone will need to maintain the d-line’s tradition of boisterous energy when Merrell and Thompson are gone.

“For the kickers, it’s tough to create that end-of-the-game environment, so you do anything you can,” Flood said. “The defensive players razzing the kickers has certainly been going on since I’ve been here.”

By Josh Bakan

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