- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

The swagger and speed are similar. They even play similar roles and deliver equally jarring hits.

Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman met Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington in 2000 when Merriman played at Douglass High School in Croom, where Arrington’s younger brother attended. Arrington became the mentor and Merriman the star pupil. Now Merriman is emerging as one of the Terrapins’ playmakers on the nation’s No.5 scoring defense.

“Sometimes we laugh at each other that we walk, talk and act just alike,” Merriman said. “It wasn’t hard to get to know each other.”

Merriman has the same lightning speed to the quarterback that made Arrington the Redskins’ third overall selection in 2000. Three steps melt into one stride. A quarterback suddenly becomes another of Merriman’s “Lights Out” victims illustrated by a tattoo of a finger turning off a light switch on his right forearm.

“I was just talking to LaVar about who has the best closing speed. I do,” Merriman said. “Sometimes I have such a good stride I can run anybody down.”

Merriman’s five sacks are third most in the ACC. He can play at the line as a pass-rushing end or drop into pass coverage with equal success. The tweener “LEO” position is a key in the Terps’ defense that counters balanced offenses like North Carolina tomorrow at Byrd Stadium. Merriman’s 10 quarterback hurries tie end Kevin Eli for the team lead.

Merriman is only a sophomore, but coach Ralph Friedgen believes he could emerge as the team’s best player.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Shawne,” Friedgen said. “The position he plays is so hard to find. You have to find a guy that’s good enough to take on a 300-pound offensive tackle to stop a run and fast enough to cover a wide receiver. He has an uncanny knack of timing a quarterback’s pace and jumping up and knocking down a pass. By the time he’s finished here, he’s going to be a great player if he continues to progress.”

Arrington is among Merriman’s admirers. The two spent the summer working out together with both weighing 253 pounds and Merriman one inch taller at 6-foot-4. Arrington regularly calls with tips, mostly constructive criticism.

“Shawne’s a specimen and he’s got the heart,” Arrington said. “A lot of times you can have potential, but if you don’t have the heart to go with your talent, I don’t know how far you can go. But he’s got a lot of heart, a lot of desire. I think he’ll be all right. Maybe we’ll get him one day.”

The phone calls aren’t always positive, though. Merriman said Arrington provides the harsh truth at times.

“LaVar is a friend who has been at this level, so he gives me a lot of pointers,” Merriman said. “He doesn’t give me too much credit. It’s not always what I want to hear. He helps me mentally to stay focused. If we lost or didn’t play well, he tells me to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Said Arrington: “I watch him every time he’s out there. I just tell him to hang in there.”

Merriman plans to remain at Maryland for his final two seasons but acknowledges that he dreams of playing with Arrington in the NFL.

“Anybody who says they don’t think about playing in the NFL isn’t telling the truth,” Merriman said. “You have to concentrate on coming out here every day to get better.”

Staff writer Jody Foldesy contributed to this report.

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