Maryland defensive hybrid Shane Merriman has known for a while that the tough times were behind him. But yesterday, he found out exactly how far behind - several million dollars worth.
Merriman, who grew up in impoverished circumstances in Upper Marlboro, completed an extraordinary year that took him from his junior season with the Terrapins to being the first-round pick of the San Diego Chargers, the No. 12 choice overall, in the NFL draft.
"I always didn't have it easy in my life," said Merriman, who left college a year early. "I was forced to be real mature real early in my life, which helped me out to this point. I think [Chargers] Coach [Marty] Schottenheimer saw that and it impressed him a lot."
Another Terrapin, 5-foot-11, 183-pound cornerback Domonique Foxworth, was drafted by the Denver Broncos with a compensatory pick late in the third round. Foxworth, who played at Western Tech, was the 97th selection overall.
With his high selection, Merriman's life has changed radically. Based on what last year's 10th through 15th draft picks received, Merriman is looking at a signing bonus in the $2.5 million to $3 million range.
"I couldn't be happier for Shawne," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Anytime you can be the No. 12 pick of the draft, that is a very big honor. You have to be real exceptional to go that high. He is going to make a lot of money."
Then Friedgen joked, "And tell him I would love to have the Shawne Merriman Facility."
The 6-4, 273-pound Merriman, who can play defensive end and linebacker, is expected to add muscle to the Chargers' pass rush, which finished last season with just 29 sacks, 10 of them coming from weak-side linebacker Steve Foley, and 31st out of 32 NFL team in pass defense. It was a weak link for San Diego, which had a surprisingly strong 12-4 season before losing to the New York Jets in the playoffs.
"Our pass defense a year ago was not ranked anywhere where it needs to be to be a championship football team," Schottenheimer said after selecting Merriman. "People always look back at the back end of this thing and say it's the secondary. But I think all of us in here realize that it has a lot to do with the ability to put pressure on the quarterback.
Merriman showed himself to be a penetration defender last fall with 8 1/2 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries and 17 tackles for a loss.
"This guy has been a grown man since he was 12 years old," said Chargers assistant general manager Buddy Nix. "He had to support his family and work and play football. ... He's got his head on right."
As a teenager, Merriman worked at a lumber yard, frequently toting loads of wood on his shoulder that other workers need forklifts to move.
In San Diego, he'll shoulder some of the pass rush load as the Chargers figure out where he fits in their 3-4 defensive scheme. Foley starred at weakside linebacker in 2004 - where Merriman might have played for other teams - so the former Terp could wind up playing either defensive end or linebacker opposite the veteran.
"He has played both linebacker as well as with his hand on the ground rushing the quarterback," Schottenheimer said of the draft pick. "That versatility was one of the factors that was a part of our decision to select him."