July 20, 2018 | ° F

Merrell’s production skyrockets his junior season before suffering freak kidney injury in senior year

Modest beginnings

Photo by Shirley Yu |

Senior outside linebacker Jamal Merrell’s tackling numbers declined his senior year. He has 36 tackles so far this year, none of which went for a yardage loss. Merrell recorded 86 tackles, including 8.5 for loss last year as arguably Rutgers’ most improved player that season.

Jamal Merrell and Jamil Merrell were born the same day, play defense, stand 6-foot-4 and have four common letters in their first names.

The similarities end there.

Rutgers head football coach Kyle Flood doesn’t have the time to list the twins’ differences.

“How much time do you have?” Flood said when asked how they’re differences. “Jamil has a very gregarious personality, a very loud guy. Jamal is a little bit more reserved in terms of how he carries himself.”

Photo: Luoye Wang

Senior defensive tackle Jamil Merrell said Jamal Merrell, his twin brother, was always the more laid-back sibling.

It has always been that way where Jamal Merrell, a senior linebacker, has a quiet, mellow demeanor. Jamil Merrell, a senior defensive end, is a bit more vicious.

“Just growing up, we did everything together,” Jamal Merrell said. “So he always was the vocal one, kind of just the one to step out, and I was just the one who sat back and did the smart thing.”

But Jamal Merrell’s rise in the Scarlet Knights defense last year was not so quiet. The Bear, Del., native went from a training camp positional competition to playing a key role in a notable Rutgers defense.

Jamal Merrell and then-sophomore linebacker Kevin Snyder competed to hold the strong side last year.

Jamal Merrell won the competition. Snyder got snaps, but Jamal Merrell shined.

He was arguably Rutgers’ most improved player last year with 83 tackles, nearly doubling his 2011 total of 44.

He provided the line with versatility as both he and former Knight Khaseem Greene could cover receivers.

Jamal Merrell was a safety and wide receiver at Hodgson Vo. Tech (Del.) High School and recruited to Rutgers for wideout. That made converting to linebacker as easy as it could be for him, and he liked moving to his brother’s side of the ball.

“That was phenomenal, just to see him putting his hand down and I was right behind him,” Jamal Merrell said. “The ball comes to our side, and he’s right there and I’m right there to make a play.”

Jamil Merrell says they don’t share non-verbal cues on the field that a non-twin might think they have, but Jamal Merrell says their brotherhood makes up for it.

“I would say we’ve got a bond that’s unbreakable, but at the same we always try to bring our brothers into that bond because brotherhood is something you can’t teach,” Jamal Merrell said.

Jamal’s Merrell senior season curbed a positive track.

He has 36 tackles this season, which included missing three games because of a kidney injury. The freak injury occurred when Jamal Merrell fell down and the football on the ground collided with his kidney area Sept. 7 against Norfolk State.

Jamal Merrell also recorded 8.5 tackles for loss last year and none this year. He makes no excuses for his poor season.

“You never know when injuries are going to occur in football,” Jamal Merrell said. “It’s how you bounce back.”

Jamal Merrell’s greatest success came from flanking into pass coverage this season. The outside linebackers received several opportunities this year to aid Rutgers’ thin secondary.

He has two interceptions, along with two of his seven-career special teams blocks. So Jamal Merrell’s senior year contains bright spots.

The season, and Jamal Merrell’s career, will end on a sour note for him if Rutgers loses tomorrow to South Florida.

It would be the Merrells’ last game together at Rutgers and likely ever. Jamil Merrell thought about this, but is still optimistic.

“If we make it to the next level, we never know what can happen,” Jamil Merrell said. “Our connection’s never going to go away.”

One difference will be that when one of the Merrells wakes up next year, the other won’t be in the room. They have shared a bedroom since birth, now also living with senior wideout Phil Lewis.

Jamal Merrell will move in with his wife he married in August, and Jamil Merrell will move into his own place.

As both leave Rutgers, Jamil Merrell is ready to release that part of their relationship.

“We’ll still see each other, still be in contact,” Jamil Merrell said. “You all make it sound like it’s a big deal.”

By Josh Bakan

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