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December 22, 2014

JSU's Merrill ready to play without pain of injury

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Posted: Friday, August 1, 2014 5:12 pm | Updated: 5:18 pm, Fri Aug 1, 2014.

JACKSONVILLE — When Markis Merrill went down with a hip injury during Jacksonville State’s game against Tennessee State last year, it didn’t look good.

At the end of a 76-yard pass reception, Merrill went down and stayed on the turf at Burgess-Snow Field. He was loaded onto an ambulance and carted away.

The injury ended his season, but a year later, Merrill is well and jokes about the situation.

“I got hurt last year?” said Merrill, now a junior.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Merrill knows all about coming back from injury. As a freshman in 2012, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the preseason, forcing him to miss the season. In the third game of last year — a win over North Alabama — Merrill was knocked unconscious after making a catch. He missed the rest of the game.

“I’m back to 100 percent, back to normal,” he said. “Everything looks good. My speed is back to normal, I might even be faster. We’ll find out.”

When the regular season starts, the St. Augustine, Fla., native is looking forward to picking up where he left off last season. Before the hip injury, he had hauled in 24 receptions for 363 yards and two touchdowns.

Even though he missed the final eight games, he still managed to finish fourth on the team in catches and receiving yards.

Gamecocks first-year head coach John Grass, who served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach last season, has been impressed with Merrill’s recovery.

“It’s been special to watch him be able to make it back and have the opportunity to play again,” he said. “Going through that injury was devastating to him as well as our team, so for him to be recovered and to the point he’s at now is ecstatic.

“I think he’s going to have a great year. I don’t think he’s lost much of where he was. I mean, you worried about that kind of injury and how it’s going to affect him as a player, but all indications this summer, he’s looked really good.

“I think he’s got a chance to be dynamic. You take a kid who came off an ACL injury his freshman year, and a (hip injury) the second year, and recovered to be where he’s at, I think he can still be an impact player for us.”

The hip injury was serious enough that Grass called it a “Bo Jackson injury.” Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn, played professionally in football and baseball, before a hip injury ended his NFL career as a running back.

Although Merrill knows well that sometimes football players get hurt, he is hopeful to find a way to play a full college season without missing time because of an injury.

“I can probably eat better,” he laughed. “But I have to leave it all up to God.”

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