High Praise

"If I were making a draft of all the Division 1 players I have had, Thor would be my number one selection."

Those words of high praise come from Buford (Ga.) High School head coach Dexter Wood concerning defensive end Thor Merrow, who committed to West Virginia on Sunday. Wood has had fifteen Division 1 signees in the past five years, but none of them rate as highly as Merrow.

"He is the sole reason we got back to the state championship game this year," Wood said of Merrow, who is the son of former WVU standout Jeff Merrow. "He carried this team on his back.

"I only saw his dad play in the NFL, but I would say he has his father's passion for the game. His toughness, the way he works, and his love for the game - all those intangibles make him great. He has a love for the game - and maybe I should say just a love for playing - that has him going full speed all the time. He disrupts our practices just like games."

At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Merrow might appear to be a bit undersized for a defensive end. In fact, that may be why so few Division 1 schools have been to visit him or watched his senior film. However, Wood doesn't think that will be a handicap.

"He is so quick and so explosive off the line that I think he will be fine on the edge at West Virginia. You can see it in the weight room with his power cleans and in his first step on the field. He has great hands, and he is excellent at shedding blocks, but his first step is so quick that he gets into the backfield.

"I think a lot of schools missed out on him because of his size," Wood continued. "There were only about three Division 1 schools that have seen his senior film, and West Virginia was one of those. They were fortunate, because they looked at him and saw what he could do. The coaches did an awesome job, from Steve Bird coming to watch his games down to Coach Rodriguez coming to visit. When he came down, that lit a fire in Thor, and once he saw West Virginia's facilities and the program, he was very excited."

Merrow, who just turned 18, also likely has more growing to do. Wood sees no problem with him playing in the 265-270 pound range for the Mountaineers without losing any of his explosiveness.

"We played him on the weakside here, because we wanted to get him in the best spots to make plays," Wood said. "Sometimes in short yardage, we put him inside and would stunt and slant him, and he was pretty much unblockable. No one could get to him."

That speed off the edge was the deciding point for the WVU scholarship offer, which Merrow quikcly accepted. The Mountaineers have been looking for pass rushers for the past several seasons, and Merrow appears to have all the qualities necessary to put pressure on the quarterback.

One place where Merrow is ahead of the game is in the use of his hands. Many high school defenders are limited in their knowledge ofhow to use their hands on defense, but Merrow, who has benefitted from some outstanding coaching, is already well-versed in hand technique.

"We have a great defensive line coach here, and we don't just hit guys with our forearms like many high schools do," Wood explained. "We teach good hand technique, and that's on of the things that has made Thor such a productive high school player. I think he'll be ahead of the game in that area when he gets to West Virginia."

In addition to his defensive line duties, Merrow also played tight end and long snapped for the Wolves.

"He caught three or four TD passes, and blocked really well on offense," Wood said, "and he is a great snapper as well. I think there's several areas where he could contribute at West Virginia."

Merrow will get one final chance to show his talent next week as a member of the Georgia All-Star football game, which pits the best 40 players in the northern half of the state against a like number from the south. And while some players might be coasting in such an event, it's a safe bet that Merrow will be going all-out.

"It's never too tough for him," Wood concluded. "He's full-speed all the time."

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