Friday Night Files: Walker Merrill Talks First Game, Recruitment

The first Friday Night Files of the 2020 season is focused on Tennessee commit and Brentwood High School wide receiver Walker Merrill.
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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many had wondered when and even if high school and college football would return. On August 21rst, our coverage high school prospects for the University of Tennessee began for the 2020 season. It was somewhat fitting in that we picked back up with one of the last players we saw before the shut down during the seven on seven season, Brentwood High School senior Walker Merrill. Merrill had an eventful shutdown, committing to the Vols and bringing his recruitment to a close. The talented senior opened the 2020 campaign on a rainy night in Nolensville, in a game further delayed for over an hour by lightning. Unsurprisingly, neither the weather nor the difficult circumstances slowed the focused Merrill down.

Walker Merrill is regarded as a receiver that can play in any role as a receiver, while meeting any requirement that the position could pose. Merrill has the speed to beat defenders deep or to break away from them after the catch. He runs crisp, sharp routes that allow him to get open and create opportunities for his quarterback. Merrill uses his size and body well whether it is shielding a defender off, forcing him to play through Merrill to get to the ball on a slant or dig for a first down, or boxing out a defender for a jump ball in the red zone or a deep throw. Merrill is such a ln asset for his quarterback because not only does he have a good frame and run good routes; he has outstanding hands. Seldom does a ball get to Merrill's hands without being caught. The final piece to Merrill's game is perhaps the most surprising. Merrill is an extremely physical receiver with the ball in his hands. Merrill welcomes contact, and he thrives in fighting his way through it. Once the ball is in his hands, Merrill looks more like a power running back when defenders are around. The first man very seldom brings Merrill down, and when paired with his breakaway speed, a single broken tackle can turn into long gain or touchdown. Merrill will arrive at Knoxville as a well-polished receiver that is technically, physically, and mentally ready for the next level. Teammates, coaches, and opponents regularly heap praise and respect on Merrill as a competitor and for the way he plays and approaches the game. Merrill has a combination of a high football IQ, natural talent, toughness, and technique that will see him factor in early at the next level.

Against Nolensville, the Brentwood senior displayed all the parts that make up his multifaceted game. Merrill worked at different receiver spots during the game. Merrill played to the boundary on either side of the formation, in the slot, and in motion. This versatility not only helps the Brentwood offense, it shows that Merrill is capable of contributing wherever there is an opportunity at the next level. Merrill moved the chains for Brentwood with a few catches over the middle, despite hard hits and a consistent rain that was heavy at times. He showcased his speed on some deep routes, but perhaps best on his touchdown reception before the close of the first half. Merrill secured a pass out in the flat and turned up field. He shed one tackler and then turned on the jets to beat the Nolensville defense to the pylon, lowering his shoulder to finish the run through a defender. That burst allowed Merrill to beat several angles to the goal line and roll off yards with ease. Watching him in the open field, Merrill is a smooth athlete, and the effortless way that he runs can bely just how fast he is. In the second half, Merrill caught a similar pass, but this work after the catch showed his physicality. Merrill ran through one defender, hit and spun off a second one, before lowering his head into three waiting defenders, driving them back before being pulled down. What would have been a two-yard gain at first contact ended up going for around fifteen. It was Merrill just showing what he is capable of doing, and that he will likely be the tone setter for the Bruins with those skills this season.

Merrill is a highly polished receiver product, and should expect to contribute early in Knoxville. On a personal note, Merrill is a prospect that I have seen several times in a seven on seven setting live, however this was the first Brentwood game I have attended in person. Merrill shows his physicality as a runner on film, but it comes through even more in person. The first defender does not bring Merrill down alone. It is a matter of will and pride, and that toughness sets the tempo for his teammates. There are areas for Merrill to improve, but his game is good across the board. Merrill does not have holes in his game, and he can effectively do any job a coach could ask of a receiver. He demonstrated that on a rainy, difficult night to open the season against Nolensville. Merrill is flying a bit under the radar as an early commitment, but the Vols’ have landed a talented receiver that should help them as soon as he arrives on campus. Merrill is a gifted player that can surprise people quickly at the next level.

You can watch the full interview with Merrill in the video above.