During this afternoon's 26-0 shutout of Howard, Rutgers linebacker Jamal Merrell flew around the field freely, wreaking havoc on the Bison offense. Merrell's 14 total tackles (3.5 for loss) were an impressive figure, and the total was even more impressive when you consider the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was playing with a heavy burden.
On August 30th, Merrell's 25-year-old brother Benny was shot and killed while playing basketball at a park in New Castle, Del. The suspect, 22-year old Brandon Wyche, was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
Jamal and his twin brother Jamil, a defensive end for the Scarlet Knights, missed practice on Wednesday to return home for the memorial services for the older sibling Jamal called "me and my brother's rock."
"If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here today," Jamal said. "He taught us so much. His core values that he put into us before we even got to college, when we got to college, we were like 'We can do this.' We have all the core values that the coaches were trying to teach. That's all coming from him and my dad, mainly him…He put into us to do the right things, you've got to go hard in this moment, don't put your head down, so that's kind of what we're living on right now and what we'll continue to live on."
In addition to Jamal's 14 tackles, Jamil had three of his own, and one sack.
After the game, Kyle Flood took time to recognize the contributions the brothers made.
"This was a hard week for them on a personal level with their family," Flood said. "I don't really want to talk about that. But for them to overcome what they had to overcome personally this week and go out and play at that kind of level, I thought they really played inspired football today."
As he and his brother dealt with their family tragedy, Jamal Merrell was buoyed by his teammates, whose support he deemed crucial to his ability to cope with the loss.
"We have a process here that everybody is kind of like a family member," he said. "Everybody picks you up, everybody hugs you, everybody [says] 'If you need anything come to me, talk to me.' I call it the web; our web here is just so good. We have networks so far as everybody is a brother. Nobody is looked down upon."
Through two weeks, Jamal is second on the team in tackles with 21.
After battling with Kevin Snyder for the starting SAM linebacker spot, he has solidified himself as a force on the defense, using his length and athleticism to stalk and take down ballcarriers.
"I'm just a speedster," Merrell said. "Kind of last year, I was learning the playbook and this year I have the playbook down 100 percent. It allows me to not only run around with speed but know where I'm running and be at the right place at the right time."
As their junior season rolls on, Jamal and his brother will have extra motivation to continue their strong contributions: the memory of Benny and the lessons he left them with.
"We're playing for something more now, just to continue his name because we know that he's watching us," Jamal said. "Emotionally, we just keep him in our hearts and go out there and do what we do."