Tracking the Terps caught up with former Maryland linebacker/defensive end Shawne Merriman, who will hold his annual Lights On Foundation coat drive at Byrd Stadium prior to Saturday’s game against Boston College. Merriman will also be Maryland’s honorary captain for the game. (For more information on the coat drive, click here.)
TRACKING THE TERPS: Shawne, tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to since you retired from the NFL in March.
SHAWNE MERRIMAN: Well, I have a show on NFL Network’s NFL AM that I do weekly, then I’m doing a whole lot of shooting [for TV shows], man. I’m on “The Mindy Project” on Fox coming up on [Nov.] 26th. Just a bunch of different shows here and there.
Then obviously I have my “Lights Out” brand. When I was a rookie in the league, because of my nickname, I actually bought the rights to the name “Lights Out,” so I’ve been using that with my clothing company disposal companies. So, I’m still working.
Is TV something you thought about eventually doing back when you were at Maryland?
Yeah, I always thought that I’d end up in TV somewhere, because people would say I was good on camera back in high school when I would do high school sports shows and things like that. I wanted to have a future someday in TV, so everything is kind of coming together right now and it’s a fortunate situation.
I saw that you also did a training session with WWE recently. Can you share some of the details about that, and is that an avenue that you’d like to pursue as well?
Well, it wasn’t a trainig session. I kind of just got in the ring and was messing around a little bit. I wanted to see their new facilities in Orlando, and it was something I dreamed about doing as a kid. So, when I actually got a chance to see the guys train, I just jumped in the ring and kind of had some fun. That was about it on that.
You mentioned when you retired that it was important to go out on your own terms. Was that a tough decision, and have you had an inkling to come back at all since the season has started?
It was tough, only because I knew I could still play. That was the toughest thing, but for me, I knew it was my time to move on to another career. I was appreciative and blessed to have eight years [in the NFL] – even through the injuries, because the injuries really let me know about myself and not quitting and not wanting to give up. … That kind of told me a lot about myself.
But, for the most part, I knew it was time to move on to the next thing. And I’m still kind of around it talking about it. Just being around the locker room and talking to players, you still feel connected to the game.
Obviously the protection of the quarterbacks is a hot topic in the news, and Ray Lewis was talking about it on TV this week. Is that something that hits close to home for you as a guy who was a pass rusher?
You know, I was excited when they first came out with the rules for the protection of players in general, not just quarterbacks but all players. But I’m starting to see a trend where it’s gone too far. Guys are getting suspended and outrageous fines for something that could possibly go either way. …
I thought the whole rule was in place to protect guys, not to fine guys week in and week out to teach them a lesson. I think that’s what’s going on more than anything now.
How closely do you follow Maryland football these days, and what’s your take on the program?
You know, I’m excited that they’re bowl-eligible for the first time under Coach Randy [Edsall]. It gives us momentum going into the Big Ten. …
Kids here in the local community in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Baltimore – we have so much talent here that if guys would just stay home, we could compete against anybody in any conference. Hopefully that [success] just makes guys want to stay here more.
Have you been involved in any recruiting pitches to keep kids close to home?
Not really personally. Obviously [current Maryland offensive coordinator] Mike Locksley recruited me [out of Douglass High in Upper Marlboro]. But as far as recruiting, I think of it on a national level just as we’re talking about it now, because it’s important to me. I don’t think I would have received the amount of attention and respect and love anywhere else that I was recruited. The best thing that I did was stay at home, because this area meant so much to me.
Have you stayed in touch with Ralph Friedgen or anyone else from that staff during your college days?
Yeah, once in a blue moon I do talk to Coach Friedgen. Just catching up and asking about his wife, Gloria, and how everything’s going. Obviously they still see me on TV and I’ll get text messages here and there that say, “Keep up the good job” and “Love watching you” and stuff like that.
When I retired I got text messages from just about everybody I ever played with from pee wee league all the way up to the pros.
When you look back at your time in College Park, is there a particular memory that stands out above the others?
Uh, yeah. (Laughs.) One in particular is the first time I got a chance to play on ESPN against Georgia Tech and when the “Lights Out” dance was kind of born. It got me yanked off the field by Coach Friedgen. I’m glad he did it as a discipline, but we didn’t get a penalty for it.
It’s kind of the birth of the “Lights Out" dance, so I’ll never forget that.
Speaking of that dance, is there ever an occasion where you have the urge to break that out again, or is that also retired?
(Laughs.) I have urges – trust me. Especially when I see a good play on the field when I’m watching a game and somebody lights somebody up. I just want to jump up and give it to him one time.
But when I’m walking down the street anywhere in the country, somebody will say, “Hey Lights Out, do the dance,” and I just start laughing because it’s not something that I just easliy break out.
But if I get excited enough, it comes.
You’re going to be holding your coat drive again before Saturday’s game at Byrd Stadium. It seems incredible that this is your 11th year doing it. Are you amazed by how successful it’s been [20,000 coats and counting]?
You know what, I’m not surprised, I’m more thankful. There have been some very, very good people who have been involved in that event for the last 11 years. To be able to make partnerships like “Good Morning America” and PETA and Burlington Coat Factory, all these people have been a part of it for the last 11 years, and the University of Maryland for all the support and backing … it means a lot to me because of the situation that I used to be in.
I’m only 29, so when I say 11 years it sounds like a long time, but I have a long time still to go. I’m hoping for another 11 years that are just as successful.
And remind readers why this is so important to you and why you came up with this idea?
Yeah, I grew up in a very unfortunate situation. I grew up in [Prince George’s] County, and I always said that if I was in a position to give back and help somebody not go through a winter without a winter coat, then I would.
I was left with two homes burning down and forced to live in shelters and couldn’t afford a winter coat at that time, so I know what it’s like and I want to make sure that no one else experiences it.