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Tough guy Merriman has a soft spot

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Apr 20, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/2006-04-19-merriman-feature_x.htm">USA Today</a>

    By Jim Corbett
    <div class="inside-copy"><a title="Shawne Merriman" onclick="doPopup(2202);return false;" class="imagelink" href="http://bolttalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/04/2ShawneMerriman.jpg"><img width="186" height="214" align="left" alt="Shawne Merriman" id="image2202" title="Shawne Merriman" src="http://bolttalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/04/2ShawneMerriman.jpg" /></a>Let's start with the damage.</div>
    <p class="inside-copy">No, not the pain San Diego Chargers linebacker <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=3171">Shawne Merriman</a> inflicted on NFL ballcarriers and quarterbacks during his 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year debut.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">This is about the $32,000 total hit to their wallets Merriman and fellow first-round pick <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=3157">Luis Castillo</a> suffered at their rookie initiation dinner late in training camp last summer.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The guy nicknamed "Lights Out" nearly passed out when the waiter handed him the bill.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Oh, I was so sick when I got the bill," Merriman says. "I didn't even talk to the guys for a week. I was like, 'How could they do this to somebody?'</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Guys ordered the most expensive bottles of wine and champagne, stuff they never even touched. I broke the rookie record set by <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=1813">Philip Rivers</a> the year before."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The party of nearly 30 Chargers went out of its way to run up the tab at Pamplemousse Grille, one of San Diego's high-end eateries.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">It was all in good fun, right?</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I mean, $32,000 is a lot of money for a meal. But at the end of the day it's all about the cause. After everybody finished eating, <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=561">LaDainian Tomlinson</a> said the meal was not intended to punish me. It's meant to bring me closer to the team.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He said, 'We're going to need this guy, and we'll need him to perform like the coaches expect.' "</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Merriman probably brought some of that hazing on himself. He missed the team's offseason conditioning program and minicamps after a protracted dispute over the language of a standard team injury waiver clause. When he did report in early August, Merriman showed up brash and bold, as if he were already an established star. He had the "Lights Out" persona, complete with a tattoo of a light switch being turned off on his right forearm.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">What's more, Merriman had already spent a good part of his $9 million guaranteed bonus money on cars and a new home in San Diego, complete with a state-of-the-art home theater and a pool with a Jacuzzi and waterfall.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"We heard Shawne had bought three or four cars already," veteran left tackle <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=336">Roman Oben</a> says. "He had a condo in Maryland and a new place out in San Diego. He was one of those guys who wasn't shy about spending his money. So guys figured he could afford that dinner."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Although Merriman might like to spend money, Castillo, the 28th pick last year, says selfish is the last thing Merriman is.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Shawne's got about five cars, a new Escalade, a Mercedes, a nightclub in Maryland called 'Lights Out,' " Castillo says. "When you look into all of that flashy stuff he's done, you get the wrong impression of Shawne. He's really a good guy with his teammates, a guy with a big heart."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">But despite all those extravagant purchases, Merriman did without for much of his youth. He and his mother and younger sister were in and out of homeless shelters in the Capitol Heights, Md., area.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He's definitely had a past a lot of people don't know about," Oben says. "Shawne was homeless at times, so he has a passion for helping homeless people. As an NFL player, there's so many ways to help people and a cause you're most passionate about.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"What Shawne's doing is admirable: He's helping the people most people ignore."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Small wonder why Merriman spent with the impulsiveness of a jackpot winner.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I didn't have all this stuff when I was growing up," Merriman says. "I've been working hard to get where I am. Now at 21, I have a few cars, a couple of houses. But it does no good to have all these blessings unless you can help out those in need."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>It's as if there are two </strong><a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=3171">Shawne Merriman</a>s.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">There's the Samaritan who keeps the homeless close at heart. Then there's the relentless wrecking ball who embraces football's brutal essence. Merriman plays a ferocious game reminiscent of a young Lawrence Taylor.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I see physical skills in Shawne like a Lawrence Taylor," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer says. "Shawne's got the size, 6-4, 260 pounds, and he can run like the wind and has great impact when he hits.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I'm not saying he's Lawrence Taylor. But the physical skills are there."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">It was Merriman who ended Chiefs running back <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=1351">Priest Holmes</a>' season with an Oct. 30 hit that gave Holmes a concussion.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Merriman had a hand in stopping the Colts' 13-game unbeaten streak last season. Merriman sacked <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=1493">Peyton Manning</a> twice and forced an intentional-grounding call during a dominant performance in the 26-17 Chargers win Dec. 18.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He's so powerful," Schottenheimer says. "In college, he'd run and lay out as he hit someone. It was almost as if when he laid out there was an acceleration. That's where his relentlessness comes from."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">It's the flip side of the guy who recently donated $7,500 to keep open a San Diego homeless shelter the city threatened to close.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"About a month ago, I was sitting around the airport, waiting for a flight back to Washington, D.C.," Merriman says. "I read a story in the paper that they were going to close down a shelter. I couldn't believe they would do something like that.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I called some people I know, and in a matter of days we kept the shelter open."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Typical Merriman.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">He once led a collection drive that he says netted 6,100 coats during his sophomore year at the University of Maryland.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"On the field, there's nobody who can touch me, there's nobody nastier," Merriman says. "Off the field, I've been doing what I can to help the homeless. I don't do it for the television cameras or the recognition.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"When you go down to a homeless shelter and you see the faces of the people after you've given them something to eat or a coat, there's nothing that can replace that feeling. It's unnecessary that people should be homeless."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Last season Merriman told his story to Chargers director of security Dick Lewis, who once a week organized a group of players to bring food to a downtown Salvation Army shelter.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"We were talking one day, and Shawne let me know he had a tough life but he never gave up," Lewis says. "He feels he really needs to help because of where he's been in his life.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"It broke my heart when I found out (he was homeless). He can remember his mom holding his hand, going from place to place to seek shelter when he was younger. More than any other player, his sensitivity to needy folks surpasses any other player I've known here."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Off the field, Shawne's a big softie," Merriman's uncle, Henry Buchanan, says. "Anything you need, he'll ... give it to you.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He doesn't want anyone else to have to go through those things (he went through). He was emotionally hurt when the electricity went off or his family didn't have enough money to eat.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He says children should never have to suffer those type of things."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">When the Upper Marlboro, Md., apartment Merriman, his single mother, Gloria, and his younger sister were living in caught fire, Merriman wound up spending 6"½ months living with his high school coach, J.C. Pinkney, and Pinkney's wife, Lashawn, who took him in his junior year at Frederick Douglass High.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"When he got to our school, he was an introvert," Pinkney says. "He wasn't a normal, happy kid. You knew there was something behind the scenes going on. His freshman year, he gained our trust and told me things were pretty rough. The family had problems paying their rent.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"The coaching staff collected money to help him out. He was really living rough. They weren't eating like a regular family because money was sparse.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He was a really good kid who was in a bad situation," Pinkney says. "We don't have any children. Shawne turned out to be our only son right there."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">In return for a family's generosity, Merriman vowed to honor his coach's simple request.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I made him get a job, made him save his money. I told him, 'You have an ability that can take you very far in life. You can play beyond college. Just do me this one thing: If you're ever in a position where you can, just make sure you help people. It doesn't have to be with money. You can just donate your time.'</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"That's why he's helping the homeless in San Diego."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Merriman also paid $12,500 for new uniforms and incidentals for the Frederick Douglass varsity football team last year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>So how did Merriman get that </strong> "Lights Out" nickname?</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">He says it was sparked by a monster game he had his sophomore season in high school against Fort Meade.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I knocked out four guys in one game," Merriman says. "They didn't leave the game by choice."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The next day Pinkney spotted a sticker for a local power company, Pepco, short for Potomac Electric Power Co., on Merriman's locker.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I said, 'What's this?' " Pinkney says. "Shawne said, 'I've got the power to knock your lights out.' I told him Pepco wasn't well known outside of Maryland. So he shortened his nickname to 'Lights Out.' "</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">After a slow start, the 6-4, 272-pound Merriman played "Lights Out" down the stretch last season, finishing with 10 sacks, 57 tackles and two forced fumbles in 15 games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">But there's something else that distinguishes Merriman.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He's got a burning desire to be great, and it shows up in his play," says San Diego fullback <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=592">Lorenzo Neal</a>, a Pro Bowler last season. "He is relentless in the way he plays. He reminds me of a teammate I had in Tennessee before he got hurt, <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=735">Jevon Kearse</a>. I thought Jevon was 'The Freak.' But Shawne has that type of ability, and what separates him from other linebackers is that he's a great run stopper, too.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He has tremendous upside."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">It's up to Merriman to reach it.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"We've all heard the reference, 'sophomore jinx,' " Schottenheimer says. "I haven't identified that term to him specifically. But I've told him, 'You're the one who established this standard. You now bear the responsibility to maintain and accelerate that.'</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"He has terrific skills, and his competitiveness enables him to do things that are amazing."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Merriman considers himself a throwback, and he was thrilled to meet other defensive greats during the Pro Bowl.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I talked to Lawrence Taylor, <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=2246">Ray Lewis</a>, <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=110">LaVar Arrington</a> and <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=948">Michael Strahan</a>," Merriman says. "They all showed me a lot of respect because of the way I play this game.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"A lot of players tell me I can be one of the best in the game, if not <em>the</em> best. I'm going to try and take it to the furthest level. It's my job to go show them I can be the best defensive player in the game."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">With Merriman and Castillo alongside defensive standouts <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=622">Donnie Edwards</a>, <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=567">Steve Foley</a> and <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=587">Jamal Williams</a>, the defense and the running of Tomlinson figure to be the Chargers' strength in this season of transition. With <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=591">Drew Brees</a> now in New Orleans, Schottenheimer has handed over the offense to third-year quarterback Rivers.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Philip Rivers has proven he can do it in college, and we have to trust him," Castillo says. "A lot has been said about the potential of the Chargers. We might be the most talented team that didn't make the playoffs last year. We're tired of hearing about it. We didn't win the close games.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"You change three or four plays and we're in the playoffs. We just have to have that belief someone will make a play to win those close games."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Merriman seems to be a strong candidate to help last year's 9-7 disappointment make a return to the playoffs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"If he can start this season the way he finished last year, as the Pro Bowl <a target="_blank" href="http://fantasyfootball.usatoday.com/content/player.asp?sport=NFL&id=3171">Shawne Merriman</a> ... he's going to do some really great things," Oben says.</p>
     

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