Junior to Watch: Phillip Merling
School: St. Matthews (S.C.) Calhoun County HS
Position: Defensive End/Tight End
Size and speed: Merling is 6-foot-5, weighs 240 pounds, and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.
Statistics: As a junior, he had 10 touchdown catches at tight end and recorded 12 sacks at defensive end.
Honors: Was selected all-conference at defensive end.
Favorite Schools: Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Miami, Florida State.
Skinny: Calhoun County coach James Stokes says two words best describe his team’s star player, Phillip Merling.
“Impact player,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you put him, he makes a big impact on the game. He plays tight end and defensive end for us, and it would be hard for me to say which one is his best because he’s so good at both. He never comes off the field for us, only on some of our special teams. But he doesn’t even like to come off for those. He’s a real competitor.”
Merling was an all-conference selection as a junior when he caught 10 touchdown passes on the offensive side of the ball and recorded 12 sacks on defense.
“As a tight end, he’s got the best hands I’ve seen in years,” Stokes said. “All you have to do is get it in his area, and he’s going to go get it. He’s got that good leaping ability, too, from playing basketball. He plays basketball year-round, so it helps him with his conditioning and hands.
“As a defensive end, it’s his tenacity and explosiveness. He really comes off the ball well and knows how to use his arms and hands. He reads and contains extremely well. In my opinion, that’s his spot at the next level. They’re going to put about 20 or 25 more pounds on him in a good college weight program, and he’s going to be tough to handle.”
Schools showing early interest in Merling include Clemson and South Carolina, which have both made verbal scholarship offers. He’s also receiving heavy attention from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, N.C. State, Florida State and Miami.
Merling’s current top six are Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Miami and Florida State.
“I think there’s some real strong interest in Clemson right now,” Stokes said. “Coach Bowden has shown a lot of personal interest in Phillip. He’s really pushing hard for him.”
Academically, he maintains a 2.3 GPA and is awaiting his SAT score. Stokes said Merling is capable of doing much better in the classroom. “He’s an intelligent kid. He just needs to push himself as hard in the classroom as he does in sports. This past grading period, he was improved, so hopefully that’s a good sign. I’m sure he’ll qualify.”