Teammate says JSU's Merrill is fine after getting hit hard by UNA
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Sep 19, 2013 | 2411 views |  0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A game official retrieves the ball from Jacksonville State's Markis Merrill before the Gamecocks' trainers reached Merrill on the field. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
A game official retrieves the ball from Jacksonville State's Markis Merrill before the Gamecocks' trainers reached Merrill on the field. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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JACKSONVILLE -- Backup quarterback Kyle West knew Markis Merrill was doing well after the violent hit he took Saturday as soon as the Jacksonville State receiver answered the phone the next day.

"He answered with, 'Hey, this is Mr. Merrill's hotline,'" West said. "He's not down about it. He was doing fine. In good spirits."

Merrill looked anything but fine when he was drilled by North Alabama linebacker Brion James midway through the first quarter.

He had gone out on a shallow pattern and caught Eli Jenkins' pass in open field when James lowered the boom. The force of the blow knocked the sophomore several feet in the air and sent his mouthpiece flying. He landed on his back and neck, bounced off the turf, and lay motionless for several moments, the ball held in place with his right forearm, before JSU medical officials rushed to his aid.

"My goodness, what a hit that is," broadcaster Ryan Brown said on the telecast. "When you see it full speed, it's just ... a brutal, brutal play there."

The clip got more than 700 views on YouTube.

Although a hard shot to the upper body, replays showed Jones still had a foot on the ground when he delivered the blow. Gamecocks coach Bill Clark watched the play several times and said he didn't see any evidence that warranted a penalty in a season in which targeting defenseless players has become a point of officiating emphasis.

"I did not see any launching. (James') foot was on the ground when he made contact," Clark said. "We had a couple guys didn't do their job which would've protected him.

"It was scary, just a bang-bang perfect hit. That's the thing you worry about on that route. That's what happens if a guy happens to be waiting on it. It's a great play, but if they're waiting on it, that can happen."

There also was some concern the UNA players were a too exuberant over Merrill's body in the immediate aftermath of the hit, but Clark didn't find exception there, either.

"I tell our guys celebrate with your teammates and when you feel like somebody's injured, you need to respect that." he said. "I think maybe once they saw that, they did."

Merrill eventually got to his feet and left the field under his own power but did not return to the game. The players said afterward he was feeling fine and the only visible sign of trauma was a cut on the player's chin. Clark said team trainers were "really shocked" Merrill was doing as well as he is.

The hit was particularly frightening to West. He and Merrill were teammates at St. Augustine (Fla.) High School.

"It was a rough situation (but) because it was him it was more of a shock to me," West said. "I just took a knee and starting praying for him. He was going to come up. I've always known him to be a tough kid. If it happened to anyone I would've felt just as bad, but because it was Markis, it makes it a little more personal."

JSU publicists declined a request to make Merrill available for comment this week. After being asked to intercede Monday, Clark said the receiver felt "a little funny" about it.

One of Merrill's former high school coaches talked with a close Merrill family friend during the week and reported the player was feeling "fine" and shouldn't miss Saturday's game. The final decision, of course, rests within the program. JSU officials do not disclose which players are out or available for upcoming games.

Merrill's family wasn't able to attend the UNA game and didn't see the hit, but John Augustus, the receiver's mother's fiancee, knew something "was not right" when he found the game on the Internet and saw the receiver not involved in the action. He called Merrill's mother, fearing an injury, then called the player right after halftime and got the lowdown on the situation.

"He said he got hit pretty good, but said he was fine and everything was good," Augustus said. "He told me he didn't see the guy coming. He turned and caught the ball and the guy hit him. That's when he knocked his head on the turf real hard. He was alert and that's the thing.

"I talked to him (Wednesday) night. From what I understand he's playing. If he's talking like that, he must be all right."

West said he and Merrill "didn't really talk about" the play when he phoned Sunday. His call essentially was to check on his teammate's well-being.

Until the big hit, Merrill was having a memorable night for a more positive reason. Earlier in the quarter he scored his first career touchdown on a 53-yard halfback pass from Troymaine Pope. It was the Gamecocks' only touchdown of the game, won in the second overtime on Griffin Thomas' fifth field goal of the night.

"We heard the touchdown catch on the radio," Augustus said. "We thought (the game) would be on TV down here, but by the time we got on the Internet he had already scored. People from everywhere were calling us. We knew. His mom said I guarantee the game we don't come to he scores."

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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