Merrell making name in secondary
HUNTINGTON — As the calendar turned to 2018 many months ago, Marshall University defensive back Kereon Merrell took a long hard look in the mirror.
In 2018, his first season of NCAA Division I football coming from junior college, Merrell saw limited action on the field in special teams situations.
At that point, Merrell had a choice to make. He could either be happy within his role or hungry for a bigger role. Merrell chose the latter and the hunger of wanting to become a needed cog of Marshall’s defense fueled him throughout the offseason.
Now, with Marshall just eight days from its season opener, Merrell finds himself in that desired expanded role as part of the defensive rotation.
As the offseason wore on, though, Merrell learned that his improvement was just not vital for his own needs, but also for those of his position room.
“I’m just focusing on trying to be consistent every single day and trying to gain trust of my teammates and coaches,” Merrell said. “I want to take on leadership, not only with myself, but with the guys in my room and show the younger guys how to go about things.”
After coming to Marshall from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College prior to the 2017 campaign, Merrell had just two tackles in nine games last year and was mostly used in special teams duties.
However, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday started to notice him emerge in the spring and his development continued throughout the summer.
“Every year, certain guys have to step up, and when it’s their turn, they normally do,” Holliday said. “In this case, he had to step up for us and he’s done a tremendous job for us, not only in the offseason, but he’s carried it over to camp.”
The understanding of the responsibility on the field and within the position room is one of the reasons why cornerbacks coach Mike Treier has put more trust in Merrell in preseason camp and, now, into game preparation.
“He’s always been a mature kid,” Treier said. “Last year, he had a period in which he needed to get acclimated and just learn the defense. That takes a little bit of time, but now, he’s got a year with fall and another spring and he knows what he’s doing. We’re confident in Kereon.”
Despite being one of the older guys in the cornerbacks room, Merrell has no sense of entitlement to his playing time because he’s a senior.
“When you look on film, the competition is there,” Merrell said. “Every day, you know you’ve got someone behind you that is going to force you to get better and force you to make plays. You can’t go a day without making a play because you know a younger guy that is doing the same thing you are.”
Merrell is all about competition — whether that is battling to make more plays than his fellow cornerbacks in an effort to push each other in a positive way or the battle with the Herd’s talented wide receiver group in one-on-one situations.
The 5-foot-11, 177-pound senior from Vienna, Georgia, said each day he goes out to the practice field knowing the wide receivers will make him work for every defensive play he makes.
“You know every day that you’re getting Brady’s best, and every day, you are getting Willie’s best, you are getting the best from Marcel, Obi and all those guys,” Merrell said. “I can keep going on and on with the guys in that group. You’ve just got to come out and be focused because they want you and you want them at the end of the day.”
Holliday has stated previously he wants his seniors playing their best football. Merrell is intent on making sure that happens for himself in 2018.