At old school, Merriman gets top grade despite positive test

Football

October 25, 2006|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Reporter

UPPER MARLBORO -- A framed, maroon No. 44 football jersey with gold lettering leans against a wall in the principal's office at Frederick Douglass High.

No one will wear the No. 44 jersey again. It will be retired and placed in a nearby trophy case to honor Shawne Merriman.

But more than 100 varsity and junior varsity players at the Prince George's County school have worn new uniforms because of the San Diego Chargers linebacker.

There is a whirlpool, installed last month, across from the weight room, a new tackling sled and an assortment of shoulder pads and helmets for Douglass football players, all because of Merriman, who has donated $22,000 over the past two years to his alma mater.

As you walk the halls and fields of Douglass, Merriman's generosity is obvious. But it's in the hearts and minds of the Eagles players where the 2002 Douglass graduate has had an even greater impact.

That's why news that the former Maryland star may have violated the NFL's steroid policy left some finding it hard to believe and others hoping it wasn't true.

"[Merriman] has not only put this school on the map, but he hasn't forgotten where he came from," said offensive guard Emmanuel Barrett, who, with defensive end Tony Patterson, reported to yesterday's practice at Douglass wearing a Mohawk to emulate the haircut worn by Merriman.

"Our coaches are always talking good about him," Patterson said. `They talk about how hard he worked to achieve what he has, and how he overcame so much. That's why he's a role model to us, and that's why I feel so sad for what happened, and I hope that it's not true."

The 22-year-old Merriman "is a legend around here at Douglass - loved like crazy," said fifth-year Eagles coach J.C. Pinkney, 32, with whom Merriman lived for six months after a house fire left him homeless.

During the time they lived together in Bowie with Pinkney's then-fiancee and present wife, LaShawn, Merriman worked part time at a nearby PetSmart, eventually earning enough money to buy an Oldsmobile Cutlass his junior year.

A solid student, Merriman was driven to and from school by Pinkney, "so he had no choice but to stay with me pretty much at all times."

Merriman was a peer mediator at Douglass, "one of the students who would sit down and resolve things if students were fighting," said Pinkney, who served as an assistant to Bill Johnson before becoming Douglass' coach after Merriman's graduation.

"Shawne's always concerned about [how] he's viewed, always wanted to make sure that he was always in the good graces of people. Even now, if I told Shawne I was disappointed in his performance, he would take it very hard. That's what's so troubling about this to me," said Pinkney, whose cluttered office near the back of the school houses a 4-foot-by-2-foot replica of a $12,000 check donated by Merriman last November. He donated another $10,000 this year. "Shawne has accomplished so much, and overcome so much, I just don't want people to believe that he got where he is because he bent the rules to get there."

Merriman's relationship with Pinkney "is a mixture" of big brother and father figure, to the point where Merriman called Pinkney "after every one of his games to talk about his performance and life in general," Pinkney said.

"Even as a freshman, Shawne would tell you he was going to play in the NFL, and he lived in the weight room," said Johnson, now defensive coordinator for the Eagles. "Shawne was a serious student athlete - certainly too serious about his goals that he would never have needed anything like drugs. As a senior, he attacked the SAT prep program the same way he hit the weight room. Drugs would never have allowed him to do that."

Hanging from a closet doorknob in Pinkney's office are two dirty symbols of Merriman's past: unwashed, mud-stained, No. 44 jerseys - one for the road that is white with maroon lettering and gold trim; and one for home games that is maroon with white lettering and gold trim.

"A go-getter, that's what Shawne is. As a player, he has that killer instinct, even though off the field he's a real good role model," said senior linebacker Jerrell Wedge, who is closing in on Merriman's school record for career tackles. "I don't know if he used [steroids] or not, but right now, that's not important to me. If he was sitting right here, right now, that's what I would tell him. He's a role model to me, and he always will be. I look up to him and I want to be just like him."

lem.satterfield@baltsun.com

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