Shawne Merrimen didn’t have to play on a rebuilding team going through growing pains when he came to Maryland as a freshman in the fall of 2002. The Terps were coming off a 10-2 season that included an ACC championship and an appearance in the Orange Bowl in Ralph Friedgen’s first year when Merriman joined the team.
After Maryland backed it up with an 11-win season, Merriman decided to take advantage of the booming interest in the program by giving back to the community where he grew up.
A star at Douglass High where he got the nickname “Lights Out” for reportedly knocking out four opposing players in a game, Merriman started a coat collection drive geared to helping Prince George’s County.
“I thought we’d get a couple of hundred coats,” Merriman recalled Saturday at Maryland Stadium of the first coat drive 15 years ago. “Some of the basketball team came out and helped. We got a few thousand coats that first year.”
After collecting about 1,000 during the drive last week, that number is up around 26,000. Some of the coats Merriman and his “Lights On” foundation collected were given to homeless veterans who attended the Maryland-Michigan game Saturday.
The drive will continue this week throughout the area.
“I want it to stay here,” said Merriman, who played three years at Maryland before becoming the No. 12 overall pick in the 2004 draft. “I’ve had people reach out and make it a national thing. I love it being right here in my backyard.”
Merriman, who has lived for several years in the Los Angeles area, said he plans on spending more time back in Maryland. It will give him a better chance to keep up with the rebuilding job that second-year coach DJ Durkin is doing.
As painful as it has been to watch recently — the 35-10 loss to the Wolverines was the fifth in the last six games for Maryland after a 3-1 start — Merriman believes that Durkin and his staff will eventually turn things around.
Merriman believes much of Maryland’s problems began with the early-season injuries to quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill. Redshirt sophomore walk-on Ryan Brand became the fourth quarterback to start a game Saturday.
“What can you say? You don’t want to make excuses, but we’re playing a fourth- or fifth-string quarterback. What are you going to do?” said Merriman. “The defense needs to step up and not let guys run all over them. They need to find their anchor. They’re young, too.”
Merriman, whose NFL career was cut short by injuries, said that comes down to recruiting, which he believes Durkin has done well his first two years.
“The thing is, this is the difference. Guys are going to get hurt, the problem is when the first guy gets hurt, there can’t be that much of a drop-off of the second,” Merriman said. “That’s the difference of a J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones or Braxton Miller at Ohio State.
“That’s the difference in having the backup guys, they don't have that yet. It’s going to get there in two or three years because he’ll bring some guys in and it’s going to take them a year to get some time under their belt.”
Merriman said he believes that Maryland is “about three years from competing with Ohio State and staying in the game with Michigan. The problem is that you’re getting the five-star recruits there, you need to get the four-stars here.”
Considering what preceded Durkin’s arrival, it’s not a surprise that the Terps have struggled.
“When you’re young, you don’t know how to win yet,” Merriman said. “They have more than capable guys out there, but you’re surrounded by other young guys. Who are you learning to win from?
“The guys that Durkin pulled in the last year or so, they’re going to be juniors and seniors. When he gets that next group — and I think it’s a top 20 recruiting class — those guys are looking at these juniors and seniors, and they’ll know how to win.”
If Merriman has one regret, it’s that he left Maryland three sacks short of breaking Mike Corvino’s school record of 24, which Andre Monroe broke by one in 2014. Merriman looks back to his freshman year when he had five sacks in a reserve role.
“I came off the bench and I’m still mad,” Merriman joked. “I let my coach Al Seamonson have it every time I see him. If he started me, I could have racked up some sacks. That record would have been up there forever.”