Buffalo Grove's Merrill lines up big decision to play at Chicago
Buffalo Grove senior Jack Merrill passes the eye test as a potential Division I football recruit at 6-feet-6 and 240 pounds.
The two-year starting offensive lineman also made the grade to receive interest from D-I Football Championship Subdivision programs.
But Merrill had different aspirations. So, he chose a program that was once a Big Ten and national powerhouse. One known as the original Monsters of the Midway.
The University of Chicago.
"My number one priority was not necessarily about picking the best football school, but getting into the best school I could," said Merrill, who scored 31 on the ACT.
There is no doubt the University of Chicago would rank highly on just about anyone's academic list.
That meant no big televised sideshow of a shell game with different college hats or taking off multiple college shirts to announce his choice to attend the Division III school near the Museum of Science & Industry. Merrill may be a bit of an entertainer as a guitarist in the BG band but he quietly made his decision for Chicago about a month ago.
"The recruiting process for him was very different," said BG coach Jeff Vlk. "I would say he's one of the most unique kids I've ever come across, in a positive way. He doesn't walk around the halls with a bravado like I'm that big."
Merrill did get a lot bigger at BG as he put on 60 pounds between his freshman and sophomore years. He also got a lot better as he started all 18 varsity games the past two seasons and was a team captain as a senior. And he thrived when he was given the opportunity to play on the defensive side of the ball.
"Drastic improvement," Vlk said of Merrill's years at BG. "He would do whatever it took to do his job and he never complained about playing both sides."
Football has been a big part of Merrill's life since he started playing in the third grade. But it has not been the sole focus for someone who has played the guitar since fifth grade and is currently in humanities and Advanced Placement classes.
So, that may have helped Merrill keep everything in perspective when he started getting some FCS interest.
"It's definitely tempting to go and play on scholarship at a Division I program," Merrill said. "It's every kid's dream to be a Division I athlete but I decided that wasn't necessarily what I wanted to pursue.
"I didn't really think about planning to play college football until my sophomore year of high school. After the season going into my junior year, I started talking to my coaches and realized it was a possibility and I decided to do it."
Merrill and his dad Scott emailed his game highlights to Chicago. Merrill made his first campus visit for a summer prospect camp and liked what he saw.
Merrill also went to camps at Princeton, Harvard and Yale in the Ivy League. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was his No. 2 choice but he liked the chance to stay closer to home where his dad and mom Jerilyn would be able to see him play more often.
The University of Chicago finished 4-6 last year and is 24-15 in four years under head coach Chris Wilkerson. Merrill said he will have a chance to play next season since last year's starting left tackle is moving to tight end.
"I really liked the O-line coach (John Lizak) and I agree with a lot of his philosophies and what he is trying to do," Merrill said. "I connected with the players, too, on both of my visits and at camp."
Merrill plans to study physics even though he is not sure how he wants to use his interest in it yet. If his handling of his college choice is any indication, he figures to have a good plan in place by the time he graduates from the University of Chicago.
"When I asked him if he wanted to play college football it was, 'Yes, but ...,'" Vlk said. "He said, 'I know in four years it will be over, so in four years, what's left for me?' "