It took a few years for third-year sophomore linebacker Jamal Merrell to begin making his mark at Rutgers. A few position changes landed him at linebacker, where he has started every game this season while thriving more and more each week.
Last weekend against Syracuse, Merrell blocked two kicks and helped force a game-ending fumble that sealed a Rutgers victory.
It wasn't a bad day's work for someone who played two other positions before finding a home at linebacker.
"The toughest part was just learning it at first, going from receiver to defensive end to linebacker," said Merrell, who is tied for second on the team with 22 tackles. "It's like switching gears really, just learning everything."
The best may still be yet to come as Merrell is just getting used to playing the position.
"He's such a raw, good athlete," said head coach Greg Schiano.
Helping out with that athleticism is Merrell's work ethic leading up to game day.
"He comes in with a great practice mentality," said junior cornerback Marcus Cooper. "He wants to get better every day. He's doing all the right things necessary to get him on the field."
But now that Merrell is on the field making plays, something is missing.
His twin brother, Jamil, has been sidelined all season with a foot injury and has unable to join Jamal on the field with the RU defense.
"A lot of people don't know, that's a big part of my game just knowing I have my brother out there," said Merrell. "A lot of people tell me I have a good game but when I leave the stadium or wherever, I feel like that really wasn't my best game because a part of me is missing out there."
The brothers have been teammates ever since they first put on a pair of shoulder pads and a helmet. And while both Merrells turned into standout players, Jamal credits his brother with his overall development.
"He made me a competitor because he was always bigger than me. He was actually always faster than me until we got into high school. I started working on my speed. He always pushed me to just 'catch me, catch me and get stronger and get tougher than me.' So he always kind of pushed me to get me where I'm at now."
Now, as Jamil heals up, it is Jamal who is doing more of the pushing.
"I tell him 'your time will come.' We kind of push each other and help each other."