Merrell Brothers embracing Roles in Rutgers D

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- The Merrell brothers both went from afterthoughts to starters on the Rutgers defense in the transition to this season's offense. Jamal Merrell has nine starts at outside linebacker this season and his twin, Jamil Merrell, has two starts at defensive end.

Jamal and Jamil Merrell shared a warm embrace at midfield after the Rutgers football team's 20-17 comeback victory against South Florida.

The Scarlet Knights' sideline erupted onto the field after San San Te kicked the game-winning 37-yarder in overtime, causing a frenzy in the stands and on the field.

But amid the chaos the sophomore twins found each other to finish the game the same way they started it: together.

"We always find each other at the end of the game," said Jamal Merrell. "We always just say something inspirational. This time I was just like — just like our dad always told us — ‘They haven't seen anything yet, just keep going hard and just never give up.'"

The Merrell brothers saw slim-to-no action in their first two years at Rutgers, but this season is different for boys from Bear, Del.

Jamal Merrell started virtually every game at strongside linebacker and now is seventh on the team with 34 tackles after recording two against South Florida.

Jamil Merrell missed most of the first half of the season, but earned a start at defensive end last week against West Virginia.

For the second consecutive week, Jamil Merrell assumed the starting role opposite senior Manny Abreu, and made five tackles.

Once the No. 15 ranked defensive end by coming out of high school, Jamil Merrell is finally beginning to provide the impact that was expected of him when he committed to Rutgers. To do it with his brother playing behind him at the same time makes it that much sweeter, Jamil Merrell said.

"It can't get any better," he said. "We've been doing this for so long so just to keep taking it to the next level and the next level — it's a blessing."

Both stand a towering 6-foot-4 and both carry with them the football mentality that their father ingrained within them.

In the past two games, the twins had a number of relatives present, including aunts, uncles and their mother and father.

Those same family members could not have guessed the Merrell's would eventually play on the same side of the ball.

Jamal Merrell was touted out of Hodgsgon Vo-Tech for his defensive and offensive abilities, but drew plenty of attention in his junior season, when he hauled in 16 touchdown receptions.

Head coach Greg Schiano recruited Merrell as a wideout and kept him there until this spring, when Schiano revamped his defense to add speed and quickness at all three levels.

The Rutgers staff found a spot for Jamal Merrell at the SAM, and the 220-pounder now rotates with freshman Kevin Snyder at the position.

While playing on the same unit may be surprising to the Merrell's, both planned at making an impact this season at some capacity.

"If not the same side, we were both going to be playing, we knew that," Jamil Merrell said. "Everything was a blessing we just take as a blessing and run with it."

Senior defensive tackle Justin Francis sees the energy the Merrell's bring when playing together on the field, and feels like an extension of their family.

The spark the duo provides gets everyone excited and plays a role in uniting the defensive unit, Francis said.

"Those two guys are some hardworking guys and they push each other, they feed off of each other," said Francis, who recorded a monster 11 tackles and two sacks. "When one's down you can kind of see the other amping him up. That's one thing that you love about them."

But for Jamal and Jamil Merrell, it all goes back to their father.

Whether it is during their pregame prayer together or their postgame embrace, the twins from Bear, Del., constantly remind each other of what their father always told them.

"Something about our dad like how growing up we were built for this basically," Jamil Merrell said of what his brother told him after the win. "He was just telling me ‘If we keep going hard we'll be alright.'"

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