2019 0915 mu football

Marshall’s Kereon Merrell (5) brings down Ohio wide receiver Isaiah Cox (6) during an NCAA football game on Sept. 14 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Marshall defensive back Kereon Merrell is thankful to be a part of the Thundering Herd program in 2019.

Last November, Merrell was within two days of going through Senior Day festivities with the 2018 team when word came from the NCAA that he had been granted an extra year of eligibility — one that he was not ever sure would come.

For Merrell and his family, that extra year meant everything.

“God knows where I’d be right now if I didn’t have that year back,” Merrell said. “It allowed me to graduate. It allowed me to come in and be a year better. I’m playing my best football right now, so I’m very grateful.”

Merrell is currently fourth on the team with 49 tackles while adding 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

Merrell’s top game arguably came against Western Kentucky this season when he had an interception and a forced fumble and fumble recovery on a sack. Both turnovers led to 14 points for Marshall in the team’s close win over Western Kentucky.

“Kereon’s played really well for us,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “The thing about junior-college kids — after their second year — you find yourself saying, ‘Gosh, I wish we could’ve redshirted him because he would be a really great player next year.’ ... He was a guy who got that third year and he has really improved as a player.”

That WKU performance and this season was one that nearly didn’t happen as Merrell was stuck in an appeal to get this season back — a process that he admitted took its toll on him.

“The process was long because ever since I got here, I was trying to get that year back,” Merrell said. “It took like a whole year-and-a-half. I’m very grateful for it.”

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior from Vienna, Georgia, described the unique scenario that led to him potentially losing a year from the start of his NCAA clock.

After graduating high school from Dooly County High School, Merrell enrolled in Northwest Community College for the summer. However, prior to the fall, Merrell withdrew from classes and ended up at Dodge City Community College in Kansas.

Merrell said that when he enrolled at Dodge City, records did not show that his NCAA clock had begun.

It wasn’t until he arrived at Marshall that he found out he was classified as a junior — not a sophomore like he thought.

Immediately, Marshall’s coaching staff and compliance office went to work in an effort to gain back his year lost of eligibility.

It wasn’t until two days from what he thought was his final home game of his Marshall career that he got word of receiving the ability to play in 2019.

Just how close was it? Merrell was originally mentioned in game week as one of 18 seniors taking part in those festivities.

“It was 50-50 the whole time,” Merrell said. “We were hoping and praying, basically.”

The roller-coaster ride throughout his career brings Merrell to Saturday’s game where it will, indeed, be his final one at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Given all the happenings, Merrell said the emotions will flow.

“It’s going to be an emotional week, given what I’ve been through since I got here and what I’ve been through in my life,” Merrell said. “I don’t think words can explain what this game is going to mean to me and my family.”