Safety Shakes Doubts About Academy Life


August 14, 2009|By Camille Powell | Camille Powell,The Washington Post

Something didn't feel right as Emmett Merchant watched Navy's spring football game in mid-April. Merchant could have been on the field as one of the Midshipmen's starting safeties, but instead he was sitting in the stands.

"It was hard," Merchant said. "It kind of hurt, just watching and seeing everybody."

Merchant had told Navy coaches at the start of spring practice that he intended to transfer at the end of his sophomore year. (Midshipmen are allowed to resign from the academy without penalty before their junior year.) But a month after the spring game, Merchant changed his mind.

Merchant played in 12 games as a freshman and became a key contributor in the secondary as a sophomore last season, starting three games at rover and recording two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. At the start of spring practice, he was penciled in as a starting safety.

"His strength is being so confident," junior cornerback Kevin Edwards said. "Emmett thinks he can play with anybody."

But away from the field, Merchant has long had doubts about his place at the Naval Academy. As a high school senior, he told a fellow recruit from Georgia - quarterback Ricky Dobbs - that there was no way that he would ever come to Annapolis.

"I didn't like the whole idea of people telling me what to do and having to answer to people," Merchant said. "I had older friends and I knew about their college experiences, and I kind of wanted that freedom."

But Dobbs persuaded him to consider the benefits of the academy. They spent a year together at the Naval Academy Preparatory School and bonded with two other Southerners, Edwards and safety Wyatt Middleton. But Merchant didn't like the cold weather and the military life, and he considered forgoing his spot in Annapolis.

"If I didn't have a close bond with them at NAPS, I don't think I'd be sitting here right now," Merchant said.

There wasn't anything specific that led to his decision to leave or his decision to stay, Merchant said. He said he had personal issues to sort out and he prayed a lot. He didn't tell his father that he had left the football team, and there were heated discussions when his dad found out.

"He had to learn for himself," said Emmett Merchant Sr., a wide receiver on the Georgia Tech team that shared the national title in 1990.

"One day I just woke up and I was like, 'Something doesn't feel right,' " Merchant said. "I knew that I couldn't leave."

Merchant is working his way up the depth chart but has been slowed by a strained right hamstring.

"He was gone all spring ball, so he has to pay the price," coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

Said Merchant: "I took the approach of, 'Just get back, do your best, and help out.' Even if I don't play, I can still contribute."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.