Official NFL team logos; 1 col.; 46.5 mm
Following in the footsteps of his father, Jeff, Buford graduate Thor Merrow continues to live his dream, which included a long-overdue homecoming at the Atlanta Falcons' annual Friday Night Lights last week at Norcross High School.
From West Virginia, his father's alma mater, and North Alabama, the 6-foot, 252-pound fullback signed as an undrafted free agent with the Falcons after the NFL lockout ended, joining the same franchise his father played for from 1975 to 1983.
"I got lucky enough to play college ball the same place (my dad) played and then I'm getting a shot to play at the next level in the pros at the same place he got to play," Merrow said.
For Merrow, it was also a return to where he won three state championships, was named Gwinnett Defensive Player of the Year and was an All-State selection as a fullback and defensive lineman at Buford High School.
"I can't explain how exciting it is to be back in the hometown," Merrow said. "You couldn't ask for a better situation. Being away for so long at West Virginia and North Alabama, being away from the hometown for so long and then to have the next opportunity I get to play football is in the hometown."
Merrow started his collegiate career as a pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker and then moved inside to defensive tackle, before switching to the other side of the ball to play fullback and then back to defensive line. He played in 12 games over two seasons at West Virginia, including nine tackles in eight games as a sophomore, before transferring.
After breaking his foot and then graduating from West Virginia, Merrow had an opportunity to move and play on both sides of the ball at North Alabama, a Division II football powerhouse coached by Terry Bowden.
In his first season, Merrow played in nine games and excelled on the defensive side of the ball, totaling 20 tackles, while also making a touchdown reception on offense. Merrow received a medical redshirt and made the most of the opportunity, catching seven passes for 100 yards and a touchdown as a tight end and fullback.
"My background is playing a lot of positions," he said. "I have been able to do a lot of things. You can bring a lot of stuff (to the table), but when you get in this league, everyone is really gifted and talented. You have to be ready to play every day."
Merrow's dream continued into the offseason with a pre-draft workout for the Falcons, then the uncertainty of the NFL lockout for him and all undrafted rookies. He remembered all of the time and effort, heart, sweat, tears and everything he put into it, not knowing if he was ever going to get the opportunity.
"It was very uncertain," Merrow said. "I had no clue if the lockout was going to end, when it was going to end or if it did end, if I was going to even get a shot. It was one of those things. The Atlanta Falcons gave me a tryout before the (NFL) Draft and I got lucky enough, left a good impression on them and they called me right when free agency began."
Now, Merrow is one of three fullbacks in Atlanta Falcons training camp with Pro Bowler Ovie Mughelli and Georgia Tech graduate Lucas Cox.
Now Merrow's every day begins waking up and having to be prepared, physically and mentally to impress the coaches and the organization. Due to the lockout, there were no minicamps or organized team activities, so that meant having to learn everything, including the playbook, real fast. The dream continues for Merrow as the Falcons host the Miami Dolphins in their preseason opener Friday.
"This is my dream," he said. "This is what I want to do. If I'm going to do it, this is what I wanted to try to do."