Will Merritt: Clemson's Little Big Man


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<font class=caption>In 1999, Will Merritt tipped the scales at a paltry 250 pounds, giving him the distinct honor of being the lightest Tiger lineman to start a game in the decade of the '90s.</font>
In 1999, Will Merritt tipped the scales at a paltry 250 pounds, giving him the distinct honor of being the lightest Tiger lineman to start a game in the decade of the '90s.

CLEMSON, SC -- Will Merritt is little, by any offensive lineman's standard. Just ask him.

"I feel small everyday," the 6-foot-3, 265-pound junior says with a smile. "The guys I block everyday are 295 to 305 (pounds). I'm being outweighed by 35, 40, 50 pounds, so you can't help but feel small."

But just a short year ago, Merritt was even smaller. In 1999, the Easley native tipped the scales at a paltry 250 pounds, giving him the distinct honor of being the lightest Tiger lineman to start a game in the decade of the '90s. But there are ways to get around his size, or lack thereof.

"If you keep your technique going and you keep your feet moving, then you can compensate for being small," said Merritt. "And this offense, (head coach Tommy Bowden) wants guys that can get out and move and get down field."

Now, as the 2000 season-opener with The Citadel approaches, Merritt has fully recovered from a broken collarbone which forced him to miss the majority of last year, and has added 15 pounds to his frame, as well. He will begin the season as the starter at left guard, a position he was expected to back up until the unfortunate loss of Akil Smith forced incumbent starter T.J. Watkins to move to left tackle. But, according to Merritt, Smith's loss has caused the offensive line to rally around each other and become a more cohesive unit.

"When you lose one of your best offensive lineman, you have to dig deep," he said. "You have to kind of look within yourselves. A lot of guys are having to step up to the plate and become players early on. What we've done with the loss of Akil is try to make something positive out of it and rally around each other."


AUDIO
Will Merritt talks to the media on Tuesday.

And the unit's cohesiveness is starting to take shape. As year two begins under the Bowden system, Merritt believes the line is becoming much more comfortable with what it's doing.

"We're starting to see things we haven't seen in our offense before," Merritt said. "And I think a lot of that is because we've got a year under our belt. The offensive line is really starting to mature."

Merritt, along with that maturing offensive line, is just anxious to get this much-anticipated season underway. In fact, one gets the feeling that the entire team is champing at the bit to hit Frank Howard Field Saturday.

"It's opening game 2000," he said. "And it's been since late December (Peach Bowl) that we played. Just being the first game of the season... you're going to get excited about that. You're going to get excited about finally getting to hit somebody different that you don't see everyday. Even though (The Citadel) is a (Division) I-AA team, it's still a football game. And we're going out there to win and compete.

"I'm real excited just to have the opportunity to go out there and go against anybody. I don't really care if it was Citadel, Wofford, Florida State or whoever."



Brad Davis is the assistant sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.


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