0

Merrow's move, like name, perfect

Thor Merrow always had the perfect first name for a fullback. Now he is one.

West Virginia University moved the former Buford standout from defense to offense this spring and Merrow is definitely enjoying the change.

"I love playing fullback," the junior said by telephone after the Mountainers' first preseason scrimmage. "I think it fits me."

Just like his first name.

"It's good for a fullback," Merrow said. "But it's just a good football name period."

The former Gwinnett County defensive player of the year has always packed the ferociousness befitting the all-powerful character "Thor - God of Thunder" from comic book fame.

But as an undersized nose tackle in the trenches, he took the punishment his first two seasons with the Mountaineers. Now he gets to initiate it.

"As a fullback, you get a running start," Merrow said. "You can really hit someone."

But that doesn't mean that the transition from one side of the ball to another has been an easy one. West Virginia's spread offense is too multi-dimensional for that.

Owen Schmitt, a NFL draft choice by the Seattle Seahawks, turned fullback into a glamour position at West Virginia and he became a folk hero in the process.

"He made his mark," Merrow said. "There will never be another Owen Schmitt."

The dynamic Schmitt was a blocker, runner and receiver. The fullback at West Virginia has to be proficient in all three areas.

"It's a hybrid position," Merrow said.

Sometimes you line up next to the quarterback, Heisman Trophy candidate Pat White. Sometimes you are close to the line, as an H-back. Other times you are a second tight end.

"It was hard to learn at first in spring practice," said Merrow, who switched numbers from 99 to 32. "But it's going good now."

The 6-foot-1 Merrow, whose father Jeff was a standout defensive lineman at West Virginia and with the Atlanta Falcons, had bulked up to about 265 pounds at nose tackle. Now he is down to 244 pounds.

"I wasn't big enough for nose tackle, but I was too big for fullback," Merrow said. "I had to lose weight, instead of always trying to gain it. I needed to be faster."

Merrow played fullback in youth football and saw action at tight end in addition to the defensive line as Buford won three state titles. But it was on defense where he built his reputation.

College football is different than high school football, though.

Merrow played little as a freshman and was limited to eight games by nagged by injuries last season. He had already thought about asking coaches for a position switch when he was approached by them.

"It turned out to be a mutual thing," Merrow said.

West Virginia is making the switch from Rich Rodriguez to Bill Stewart as coach, but the spread offense will stay. Noel Devine will replace Steve Slaton at tailback, the line is experienced and White has talented receivers to throw to when he isn't running himself.

That leaves fullback/tight end as the only real offensive concern for the Mountaineers, who are the Big East favorites again and ranked highly in the preseason polls.

None of the candidates have much experience at the position. Merrow went into preseason camp second in the depth chart behind a converted wide receiver. Three freshmen are also in the mix.

"A lot of us are getting a look," Merrow said.

"Thor is working very hard to make the transition from defensive line to the fullback/tight end position," Stewart said. "He had a good spring and is doing well in camp. He is competing for the back-up position and as a contributor on special teams."

Although his dad was a former Mountaineer, Merrow didn't grow up a West Virginia fan.

"I'd never been up here for a game until they recruited me," he said. "My dad was stunned that this was where I wanted to go. But I fell I love with the place."

Merrow hasn't done quite as much winning at West Virginia as he did at Buford, but it is close.

The Wolves were 58-2 with Morrow, going to the state championship game all four years. In his two seasons at West Virginia, the Mountaineers are 22-4 with a pair of bowl victories.

That makes Merrow 80-6 as a high school and college player.

"I hadn't though about it until my mom added it up recently," Merrow said. "That's pretty good."

But Merrow has two seasons to go at West Virginia and he plans to help add to that win total.

"We have a good team and it's nice to be picked to win the Big East again," he said. "But we're not looking ahead. All we're concerned about now is getting ready for the opener against Villanova."

How much playing time he gets at his new position Aug. 30 remains to be seen. But he has no second thoughts about making the switch.

"I think fullback is where I belong," Merrow said. "It fits me perfectly."

SideBar: The Merrow File

· Who: Thor Merrow

· High school: Buford

· College: West Virginia

· Class: Junior

· Position: Fullback

· Size: 6-foot-1, 244 pounds

· Playing record: 58-2 at Buford with three state titles and 22-4 at West Virginia, with two bowl victories

· Background: father Jeff played at West Virginia in the early 1970s and spent nine seasons with the Atlanta Falcons as a defensive lineman

· Major: Athletic coaching education

· Academic honors: Big East academic all-star, athletics director's academic honor roll

· College career: Moved from defense to offense in the spring. ... Had nine tackles, all for losses, last season as a nose tackle. ... Limited to eight games because of nagging injuries. .... Played in four games as a freshman in 2006.

· Coach's comment: "That was an ugly sight, but it was good to see," assistant head coach and position coach Doc Holliday after Merrow ran over a would-be tackler in spring practice. "Fullback takes an extremely tough guy. You're asking him to get low carries, if any, and you're asking him to stick his nose in there and block people and protect. But he loves to play the game. You can see that out there."