MADISON - New Smyrna Beach (FL) offensive lineman Jalen Merrick is just starting his official visits, a four-week stretch of trips that he hopes will help him decide where he plays college football.
With the snow flying in the second half and the temperatures below freezing from the start, the University of Wisconsin made a solid first impression.“It really surprised me that there are a lot of great opportunities for me away from home,” Merrick told BadgerNation. “The game environment, the people, school, everything surprised me. It was my first official and it was great.”
There wasn’t much to be disappointed about for a 6-4, 310-pount interior guard when watching Wisconsin’s running game pick apart No.11 Nebraska. The Badgers’ offensive line helped pave the way for the Badgers to rush for 581 yards, including a FBS record 408 yards by junior tailback Melvin Gordon.
“That definitely caught my eye,” said Merrick. “Smash-mouth football, which is my style of play. It really showed who worked harder in the summer and prepared for the game.”
The offensive line is a group that needs players to rebuild its depth. After signing six offensive linemen in the 2014 recruiting class, Wisconsin has four players committed in 2015, each from a different part of the country – Jon Dietzen (Wisconsin), Kevin Estes (California), Sam Madden (New Jersey) and David Moorman (Michigan).
Both Dietzen (unofficial) and Moorman (official) were on campus for the game and made sure to give a little sales pitch to Merrick, who is believed to be the only uncommitted offensive lineman the Badgers are still targeting.
“I met a lot of great people on my visit, David, Brandyn (Lee), Andrew (James) and TJ (Griffin),” said Merrick. “I walked in not knowing any of these guys and left good friends.”
Merrick also spent time with his cousin, good friend and former teammate D’Cota Dixon, who is currently redshirting his first season at Wisconsin while recovering from shoulder surgery.
“It was just like old times,” said Merrick, who said it would mean a lot to play again on the same team with Dixon. “I haven’t seen him since he left. It’s always good having someone you know who’s going to tell you everything you want to know (and) who lives there every day.”
Although the temperature at kickoff was the coldest it has been for a UW home game in 50 years, Merrick embraced the opportunity to experience a new environment.
“I enjoyed the weather,” said Merrick. “It was my first time seeing snow. The weather didn’t affect me as much as a lot of people said it would.”
The message Merrick received from the coaching staff was direct. Offensive line coach T.J. Woods complimented Merrick’s abilities, secondary coach Bill Busch talked about the academics and head coach Gary Andersen drove all the other points home to say Merrick is a perfect fit for their program.
“They said they have (a) big opportunity (for me) not only on the field but academically,” said Merrick. “(Woods) said that I have untapped potential that I have no clue about. They really like my athleticism.”
Rated a four-star recruit and the No.14 offensive guard in the country by Scout.com, Merrick has scheduled visits to Arkansas, Florida State and LSU the next three weekends. Alabama is also an option for his fifth official visit.
“I want to decide after the last visit, depending on if I can graduate early or not,” said Merrick. “I can see myself at Wisconsin. For the first official, it was 10 out of 10.”