Marshall’s Merrell gets early Christmas
TAMPA, Fla. — It was like a gift falling out of the Christmas sky from Santa NCAA’s sleigh.
And it dropped right in Kereon Merrell’s lap.
Thanks to that present, Marshall University’s starting senior cornerback isn’t a senior anymore.
Instead, when the Thundering Herd takes on the University of South Florida at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Gasparilla Bowl the public address announcer at Raymond James Stadium will say Merrell is a redshirt junior.
Merry Christmas, Kereon.
“It really is like a gift falling out of the sky,” said Merrell, 5-foot-11, 177-pound native of Vienna, Georgia. “My teammates were happy about it, like Chris (Jackson) and Malik (Gant). They were real happy.
“So, now, we have another year to just bond.
“Getting my year back. ... that was just special. It was a special time.
“We had been doing this for eight months — the process.
“It was so long. But getting that year back, it was just heart-warming for me.
“That’s another opportunity, another year for me to just come back and help the defense stay one of the top defenses in the nation. So, that is a great time.”
Marshall’s total defense ranks No. 23 in the country and Merrell has played an important role with 32 tackles (23 unassisted) including 2.5 tackles for losses and seven pass break-ups.
But, first, he had to get that year of eligibility back.
It all started when Merrell enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College in 2016.
“I was only there for the summer — just summer school,” he said.
“I never suited up or practiced or anything.”
Then, Merrell enrolled at Dodge City (Kansas) Community College, played a season and signed with Marshall in 2017.
But the NCAA considered his summer at Northwest Mississippi as a year of eligibility.
So, Marshall appealed to the NCAA in Merrell’s behalf.
“It did take a long time,” said Merrell, “but I was confident the whole time. I knew the situation I was put in at my first junior college.
“So, I was confident the whole time throughout the process.
“It was just a matter of getting all the information together and actually turning it into the NCAA.”
Merrell received the news during the week of Marshall’s final regular-season home game against UTSA, which, ironically enough, was designated as “Senior Day.”
So, who was listed among such departing seniors as Chase Hancock, Ryan Bee and Jordan Dowrey? Who else? Merrell.
“Yeah, I was listed,” he said with a smile. “Basically, we were packing the bus and I had just talked to Brady (Mangus) in compliance right before the walk-through that we do on Fridays.
“So, after the walk-through I thought I was in trouble because Coach Mike (cornerbacks coach Mike Treier) and Coach Doc (head coach Doc Holliday) came up to me.
“Coach Mike just started asking me questions and I was freaking out. I thought I had done something wrong. Then, Coach Doc came to me and said, ‘Uh, you got your year back.’
“I was so speechless. I was so happy I couldn’t even say much. That was my best Christmas present.”
Now, Merrell gets another present – a bowl game in sunny Florida.
“God is good, that’s all I can say,” said Merrell. “I prayed so much about getting my year back. It was a plus for me to get this back. I needed this year. I needed another year. Like I said, God is good.”
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.