Chad Merrill (right), seen leading his team onto the field prior to the Division II championship game, was named to the New Hampshire Shrine Team despite not playing his senior year due to injury.
Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
July 31, 2017PLYMOUTH — Most people could look at Chad Merrill's football situation in his senior year at Plymouth and feel bad for the kid.
After all, he was a standout player in his junior season and was poised to have a big senior year. However, he was hurt playing lacrosse at the end of his junior year and missed the entire football season, watching from the sidelines as the Bobcats won the Division II title.
However, as a senior captain, he figured out his role, learned it and like everyone else on the team, worked to improve in that role as the year went on.
And when this weekend rolls around, he will get one more chance to strap on his shoulder pads and helmet and play high school football.
Despite not playing a single down this year, Merrill was chosen as one of the New Hampshire representatives for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, which is being held Saturday in Castleton, Vt.
"I was pretty excited when coach told me," Merrill said. "I get one more chance to play high school football, yeah I'll take that."
Merrill knows that coach Chris Sanborn went to bat for him with other coaches, since it would've been almost two years since they'd seen Merrill play and may not remember him from his junior year. And while the first few practices took place over the summer, Merrill said he was eager to get back into the swing of things for the first time in almost two years when camp began this past Sunday, July 30.
"It's definitely going to be different," Merrill stated. "But I'm very grateful and happy because of the cause."
The cause was also something that spoke to Merrill, on a smaller scale than what the kids at Shriners Hospitals are going through.
The motto for the game is Strong Legs Run So Weak Legs Can Walk and Merrill said that resonated with him in a big way, since he was unable to walk for portions of his senior season.
"I love the chance to play football, but it's not just for me," he said. "I was there at one point, not to the same extreme, but it's definitely cool.
"To be able to play one more time to help people in a much worse situation than I was, that's what it's about," the Plymouth graduate said.
He noted that when last season started he struggled a bit because he was watching his friends out there in their pads working hard and he couldn't join them. While he was there throughout the season, he wasn't able to do the same work.
"I've been playing since sixth grade, I was playing with my friends," Merrill said. "At the beginning it was really difficult to see everyone in pads."
However, he realized that he had a role to play with the team and set about filling that role.
"I figured out what my role was and this is what it is, this is what we have to do," he said. "I have to learn to be a better leader.
"I had the same goals as the team, which is to get better at your job," Merrill stated.
Sanborn noted, that while he knew what kind of kid Merrill was before the injury, the injury just reinforced it to him.
"This is when I really knew what kind of young man he was," Sanborn said. "He did not miss a single practice or game the entire season and was one of the most positive leaders I have come across.
"To overcome that disappointment and still show up every day was incredible," the Bobcat coach noted. "Chad is an incredible young man. He has a great family that has instilled the right values in him."
In addition to being named to the Shrine Bowl, Merrill was also a recipient of the Joe Yukica Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholar-athlete award for his work in the classroom and on the field. He also recently attained the rank of Eagle Scout.
The Plymouth graduate said it was interesting getting a chance to play for the New Hampshire head coach, who is from Trinity, one of Plymouth's arch rivals. But he noted he found him to be a great guy.
The team had some practices over the summer, but Merrill said who starts where will come down to the week of football camp leading up to the game.
Merrill plans on attending Norwich University in the fall, where he hopes to play football.
"The plan is to try to play football," Merrill said, noting that Aug. 11 is the report date for football camp, just less than a week after playing in the Shrine Game this weekend.
And he's excited to be a part of a team again.
"If they're going to let me be part of the team, I'm excited for the chance," Merrill said.
Boys' basketball coach Mike Sullivan and baseball coach Mike Boyle both also expressed their pleasure with Merrill during their respective seasons when he served as a valuable leader on both teams despite not getting the chance to play a lot.
"Chad is a great young man with great values that was an absolute pleasure to be around," Sanborn said.
Merrill started for two years for the Bobcats at both guard and offensive end and was the lone Bobcat to earn First Team All-State selection after the 2015 season.
Merrill's teammate, Drew Hodges, was chosen as a last minute replacement for the New Hampshire Shrine Team and will join him in Saturday's game.
The Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, pitting the best recently graduated seniors from Vermont against their counterparts from New Hampshire, will take place at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt. The accompanying parade starts at 3 p.m. and the game starts at 5:30 p.m.
Anyone looking for tickets to the game can visit shrinemaplesugarbowl.com.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.