Sugar in Atlanta sweet for Merrow

In the ideal world, Thor Merrow wouldn't have tickets to the upcoming Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. He'd love to wear his Old Gold and Blue game jersey for West Virginia on Jan. 2, and play against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Georgia Dome.

But the Buford graduate's desire to play football for the Mountaineers will have to wait. Instead he will be in the stands with a group of 10 friends and family for the BCS bowl, rooting on his future team.

He gets the chance to see West Virginia because Hurricane Katrina moved the game from New Orleans to Atlanta, just a short drive down I-85 from his home on Lake Lanier.

"It's really cool that I'll get to go to the (Sugar Bowl)," Merrow said. "It's the next best thing to playing."

The Sugar Bowl promises to fire Merrow up more than most games, given his uneventful fall.

A grayshirt signee, Merrow signed with West Virginia in February of this year, a few months after his senior season at Buford ended. But he did so knowing he would be a grayshirt, that he couldn't enroll at the college until January of 2006 and his scholarship would count toward the 2006 total.

So he spent this fall away from football for the first time since he was a toddler. It wasn't the best way to spend the season for a hard-nosed football player, the youngest son of former West Virginia and Atlanta Falcons lineman Jeff Merrow.

"It's been real hard," Merrow said. "That's one thing that took its toll on me, being away from football. It's difficult to sit through a football game. Football's just part of me. It bothers me more to sit there and watch. I'm so ready to play. Spring practice is going to be fun this year."

With no football to play, Merrow has focused on training since graduating from Buford. He works on his speed with Competitive Edge Sports in the morning and lifts weights at Buford with assistant coach Dicky May in the afternoon. He's up to 245 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, working daily to get ready for West Virginia, where he expects to play outside linebacker or defensive end.

He leaves for Morgantown, W.Va., on Jan. 4, two days after the Sugar Bowl, and begins classes on Jan. 7, with winter workouts soon to follow. Then spring practice, where he gets to be on the field again.

But for now his football fill will come from the Sugar Bowl.

"It's going to be fun," Merrow said of the Sugar Bowl. "I don't know what it's going to feel like for me. There's going to be a lot of emotion. I just hope they play good and win."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on