Athletic 6-1, 195 Merrill Johnson from Choctaw County High is a player who seemingly made every play for his high school team for his entire career and that fact has not gone overlooked by Auburn among other schools.
"I'm visiting Auburn this weekend," Johnson tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "I have been mostly hearing from Auburn, UAB, West Virginia and Arkansas, but it's really down to UAB and Auburn. I'll probably make my decision after my Auburn visit.
"I've been to Auburn for camps and things, but I haven't hung out with the guys or anything. I went to the Louisiana-Monroe game and the Iron Bowl. It was nice. I'm taking my visit this weekend and then I'll probably know a lot more."
A dominating player from his linebacker spot for Choctaw County, Johnson had 184 tackles, nine sacks and caused four fumbles as a senior to earn Class 4A All-State honors by the Alabama Sports Writers Association and he was one of three finalists for the Class 4A Lineman of the Year.
He also earned first-team Mobile Register All Region honors for his play. Those awards were well deserved says Coach Charles Graves, who has plenty of praise to describe the way his star pupil plays the game.
"He reminds me of a player like Karlos Dansby a little bit," Graves says. "He's slender, but has a knack of getting to the football. He has an awareness for the game and does things that are just unbelievable.
"His motor is 100 miles per hour and running. Anytime a player can go to work at 5:30 a.m. and be at practice at 7:30 for a morning practice then he's committed to doing what it takes to win."
Working with his father during the summer months putting shingles on houses in the Butler area, Johnson would often have to work before and after summer football practices with his father. Graves says his linebacker's dedication was something that he carried over with him into football games and will into life.
"He was working with his father," Graves says. "They lay shingles and he does some scrap work with his father. I know when he comes to practice he's dead tired, but he's giving that extra effort and that pays off."
A four-year starter at linebacker and occasionally seeing time at running back, Johnson had 401 career tackles and 20 sacks while playing all three positions in Choctaw County's 4-3 scheme. In addition to his defensive numbers he also rushed the ball 50 times for just over 400 yards as a senior. With 4.54 speed in the 40-yard dash Johnson has no problems getting to the ball carrier on defense and could fit in well with Auburn's style of play.
A self-professed Auburn fan since his early years who should have no problems qualifying with a 3.3 GPA and a 20 on his ACT, Johnson says that his two trips to Auburn were the first college games he's seen in person. If the atmosphere in Jordan-Hare Stadium on a Saturday afternoon is something special for veteran fans just imagine a first timer who dreams of playing college football and you'll be in the shoes of Johnson.
"It was awesome," Johnson says of the Iron Bowl. "The game was awesome. Auburn just blew Alabama off the field. The guys were hyped and up for the moment. They played their heart out and did what it takes to win."
Johnson camped at both Auburn and LSU this summer and has offers from Auburn, UAB, West Virginia and others.