Oh, he's a football player alright. And the size and beard are real. But what is amazing is he is not a man, but still a child, a 17-year old high school junior defensive lineman who plays for D'Iberville High School.
But this youngster, who does not turn 18 until March, 2002, does not play like a child, he is already playing like the man he will be.
This past season, while helping lead his team to a 12-2 record, he recorded 14 sacks, tops in Mississippi's 4A division. He also recorded 85 total tackles, caused two fumbles, deflected 5 passes, and blocked 1 kick.
In fact, the past two years, Sean, who started 2 games as a freshman on the varsity team after finishing his 9th grade season, has been selected the Defensive Player of the Year in his region. That's right, as a sophomore and junior he was selected the top defensive player in his region. He was also selected to the All-South Mississippi 2001 first-team by the Mississippi Association of Coaches.
To top this off, Sean even has a school record that he can throw in for good measure, his school's dead lifting record, all 615 pounds of it.
Plus, he runs a 4.8 forty.
Not bad honors and numbers for a youngster who has yet to hit the 18-year old mark.
Oh yeah, he is also an excellent student, maintaining a 3.35 core grade point average, according to his dad, Doug Merrill.
Colleges have taken notice of Sean. He has scholarship offers in writing from the likes of Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU. All four have attended D'Iberville games and have seen Sean play in person. Those four won't be the last that will offer Sean; you can bet a week's paycheck on that. He has also received letters from other big-name out-of-state schools such as Notre Dame and Penn State, as well as many, many others.
However, according to his dad, "Sean is really not interested in going out of state. He wants to stay close to home." His dad went on to say that Sean has said that he likes in-state schools Mississippi State and Ole Miss -- his older brother, Ryan, a USM senior, is a diehard Ole Miss fan -- with LSU also slightly in the picture due to their location.
Sean has not gotten to where he is because he just grew into a gifted athlete. A lot of hard work was involved.
His mom, dad and siblings are all hard workers, even to the point of being workaholics. Sean is the same way but from a different perspective. He doesn't have an 8 am to 5 pm job. His job is playing football. He is a football workaholic. As his dad said matter of factly, "he just plays football. He is into his cardio work, footwork and running stadiums (sprints). He is not a power-lifter or a body-builder type. He is into football."
As an example of his completely focused, driven desire to be the best football player he can be, even to the point of playing in the NFL someday, here is one week in the life of Sean Merrill as told to me by his dad.
"A week for Sean consists of getting up in the morning and going to school," said Doug. "He does weight training between 10 am and 12 pm at school. He gets out of school at 2:30 pm and goes back to the football field and runs stadium sprints or regular sprints for two hours. Then he comes to my house, takes a bath, eats and goes to the pro-gym and power-lifts from 5 to 6:30 every night. That is six days a week. Football is what he wants. He studies film. Tonight, when Christy and I came home he was sitting in front of the television watching his Mississippi State tapes from last year's games. He studies film, he studies the game, he is interested in the science of the game."
While this youngster is a dynamic force on the field and is receiving the recruiting attention to prove it, he is completely different off the field. I'll let his dad describe him. "Sean is so laid-back," according to Doug. "Sean and (Mississippi State defensive coordinator) Joe Lee Dunn are so alike it isn't even funny. The persona that Joe Lee Dunn has and Sean has is so similar it is amazing. Sean is just a laid-back country boy. I think the best attribute that Sean has is how he has not let the attention go to his head. He is not boastful or braggadocios. It is just the love of the game and, to an extent, business for him."
Sean is not the only one in his family focused on his football career. While talking to his dad, you can tell he is also as focused on Sean's career as Sean is. He makes sure that Sean can spend as much time as he needs to make himself into the best possible football player that he can be.
This attitude even extends over into his mother and step-father. Doug Merrill and his ex-wife Charlotte Smith and Sean's step-father Louis Smith -- an assistant football coach at D'Iberville -- have a very unique relationship in the fact that they all get along well and even cook out together. Doug even sits with Charlotte and her family in the stands together watching the football exploits of their immensely talented and dedicated son. Many divorced parents try to stay as far away from each other as possible, but Doug, Charlotte and Louis care so much for their son and step-son that they focus on him and not on what the stereotypical divorced relationship would normally be like. As Doug describes them, they are, "one big, happy family. People just laugh at us because they think we are still married. That is just us. The folks that sit around us get a kick out of us. It has nothing to do with anything but football with Sean. It is just fun."
With one year left in his high school career, Sean and his very, very supportive family are now looking forward to next season. And what a season it should be for D'Iberville, with 43 players from this past season's team (12-2) coming back.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.