Lights On for Merriman

Former Terps great Shawne Merriman returns to College Park this weekend for his annual Lights On Foundation coat drive.

With a chill in the Washington, D.C.-area air now, these were the days Shawne Merriman would dread the most.

As a youth coming up through adversity, twice the heat was cut off at his Upper Marlboro, Md., home due to lack of payment. One time his mother placed a candle on the TV set to keep the house lit -- and warm -- but it dripped overnight and burned the house down, one of two times Merriman was homeless as a child.

So the former Terps All-ACC outside linebacker and three-time NFL Pro Bowler, who returns to town this weekend for his annual Lights On Foundation coat drive, can empathize with those seeking warmth this time of year.

On Saturday, before the Maryland-Boston College football game at Byrd Stadium, for the 11th consecutive year Merriman will hold his annual drive to clothe the disadvantaged in the area. The San Diego resident and former first-round draft pick, now employed by the NFL Network and Fox TV, does charity work from coast to coast. But the annual coat drive in College Park, Md., is where it all began for the former Terp still affectionately known as ‘Lights Out' for his wicked hits on the football field.

Merriman's mother and two younger sisters still live in the D.C. area, and he'll be home through Thanksgiving getting caught up with family and friends. Terrapin Times caught up with him yesterday for his thoughts heading into his UMD homecoming and coat drive, which will accept donations beginning 90 minutes before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff at the South gate. Merriman will also serve as honorary game captain for the Terps' final ACC home game.

TT: First Shawne, update Terps fans back home what you are up to these days and where you are living.

Shawne Merriman: I'm in LA most of the time, back and forth between LA and San Diego, and I come back home [to D.C.] once in a while. But I don't get home as much as I used to because of the shows and the back and forth between the shooting and doing the shows.

I am working with the NFL Network, and I also have an episode I was in in the ‘Mindy Project,' on Fox, airing on November 26. So it's coming up here. It's kinda cool as I am actually playing myself, and it's a comedy. And man, it really is [laughs].

For the NFL Network, well I'm just analyzing [football]. And what I love about ‘NFL AM' (which airs 6-10 a.m. Eastern, Monday-Friday), is that it's early in the morning and people get some comedy when they are getting up and they are tired. It gives them some laughter and things like that, and that's why I am glad I am on the show because I get the chance to crack a joke here and there. And also being more of a lighter character, which is cool.

I am having so much fun doing what I am doing. On and off now for a few months I have been with them, and I started on the NFL Network Total Access. They brought me on for the entire season, which was great because I get a chance to go from the NFL Network to Fox sometimes. I did a show called ‘Crowd Goes Wild' on Fox with Regis [Philbin] on there, on Fox Sports 1, so I am back and forth between LA and New York a lot now.

TT: And coming back for your 11th annual coat drive, how does that make you feel that it's still going strong? And who are you still in contact with back here?

SM: You know, what I am most proud of, too, is just the people who remain in contact and helpful throughout all these years. I have been out of the area and I'm 29 years old, and people are still just continuously coming out and supporting -- the media outlets, local stations, the people who have been there actually helping me collect the coats.

[UM academic advisor] Natasha Criss, she has been everything to me, and she calls it the Natasha Criss Coat Drive [laugh] because she does a lot of the work. So I am just very thankful for all that after all these years and living out here.

And I hear from former [Terps] players here and there, they will call me and ask me if I watched them on film and what I need to work on and things like that. But the support from a lot of people has been great.

TT: We know you have many causes in other cities, but this is still your focal point, right?

SM: Since I grew up in the Metropolitan area, as far as the coat drive I want to keep that something special and near and dear to me in the area because of my upbringing and having an unfortunate situation growing up. One day it may expand more, but I believe now only doing stuff where I come from, but also keeping it there so I let people know that I care if they are in the same situation that I once had.

In San Diego I do a bunch of stuff with a bunch of different organizations and donate money and donate time and things like that. But really the coat drive is something near and dear to me in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. I know what it means to people out here in D.C. who can't help themselves.

TT: And it's up to 20,000 coats now? Did you ever see it getting that big?

SM: Over 20,000, yeah man, wow. And I don't even look at the coats, it's more 20,000 people that we are helping. Places like the Non-Violent Shelter in College Park there, the Martin Luther King Center down in D.C.….I will take the last 200 coats and distribute them in D.C. ourselves.

TT: And looking back on your playing career, the many ups and a few downs, what jumps out most about your legacy?

SM: What I am most happy about not…it's easy to say the accolades or All-Pros or Pro Bowls and Rookie of the Year, that stuff is notable. But what I am most proud of is some of the injuries that I did play with at the time, and I bounced back and got back on the field time after time. And I spent the last couple years of my career working my way back into a starting lineup in Buffalo after I was released in camp because I just came off Achilles surgery, and them picking me back up and starting for them. So just the persistence that I had, and heart that I had to never give up, never stop trying to get back on the field and do what I need to do to be the player that I want to be.

TT: Talk about your second career now on the other side of the camera, how does that feel after being in the media spotlight for so long?

SM: I really do enjoy what I am doing. I don't look at what I am doing as work. You get a chance to talk about football, a game that you love and have grown up and still are around the game. And I get to give my opinion of what I think of what goes on in the locker room, on a football field, in an organization. And I am glad that people enjoy listening to it.

TT: And did you catch the Terps score last week with the upset of Virginia Tech to become bowl eligible? What are your thoughts on the program now under Randy Edsall?

SM: I am excited because for one, to win that game and get qualified for a bowl game under their new head coach, which is always a plu. And then that kind of momentum going to the Big Ten. And hopefully they can get a lot more of the kids in the area to stay home, give them a reason to stay home. And not just the bowl game and what we are achieving now, but looking towards the future the teams they get a chance to play now in a primetime games and the competition level, plus the hometown support you can only get from being home.

TT: And what did you think of the Terps move to the Big Ten?

SM: You now, initially, just because of the tradition of it and me having my memories being in the ACC, I was shocked more than anything.

But right now I look at it and what it is going to do for the school and notoriety for the players that we do have….Because if you look at it, over the past 5-8 years we've had top 10 guys coming out and we have always had really good teams. And I think this will give us a chance to earn our respect on a national basis.

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