Gridiron great gets his due

Jim Merrick, right, has been named a member of the Norfolk County Sports Hall of Recognition. Merrick will join fellow McGill alum/former CFLer and Class of 2017 member (left) John Macdonald at an induction ceremony this summer. Contributed Photo SR

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Becoming a member of the Norfolk County Sports Hall of Recognition couldn’t have come at a better time for Simcoe’s Jim Merrick.

Merrick is part of the Class of 2018 that will be honoured this summer alongside a group chosen in 2017 – a roster that includes Merrick’s good friend and former teammate, John Macdonald.

At a gala event on July 13 at Delhi’s Hungarian Hall, the duo becomes the first football players to be enshrined alongside Norfolk’s athletic elite.

Merrick and Macdonald not only competed alongside each other for the Simcoe Sabres but also at McGill University and with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2004.

“John was certainly a mentor for me and taught me lots about what it takes to push yourself and become a better football player and what it takes to get into university,” said Merrick.
“It seems fitting the two of us would be going in together and it’s a huge honour to go in with John because of all the guys I played with, he’s one of the best and certainly deserves to be going in, for sure.”

Like his friend, Merrick brings with him a lengthy resume. Following a successful stretch with the Sabres during which he won MVP in 2008, he became a five-year starter on McGill’s offensive line, twice earning first-team All-Star honours in the former Quebec Football Conference. He helped the squad win a pair of conference titles, was named the most valuable lineman in 2003 and was chosen a first-team All-Canadian a year earlier.

On the track, Merrick became the province’s university shot putt champion in 2003 and competed at the national championships that year, finishing eighth.

Weeks later, Merrick was chosen 37th overall by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL Draft, eventually suiting up for the Tiger-Cats the following season.

After receiving confirmation of his induction, Merrick spoke about what an honour it was to be recognized alongside his fellow Class of 2018 members and all the names currently residing in the hall.

“Just to be part of that group is humbling and almost surreal,” he said. “You don’t anticipate those types of things when you start out with athletics, it’s not about that, you’re doing it for fun, for teammates and getting to know people.”

Following his playing career, Merrick returned to the area and began coaching high school football. He helped guide the Waterford Wolves to three Haldimand-Norfolk Bowl titles in 2008, 2010 and 2013. His overall record as a head coach was a stellar 28-3 and those losses were by a total of just five points.

“I had the pleasure of working and coaching with Jim Merrick for six years,” said Rob Malcolm, the current principal and former head coach at Waterford District High School. “The dedication that Jim showed not only to the student athletes at Waterford District High School but the school as a whole was unparalleled. He always worked to improve himself and his students. This is a well deserved honour.”

In that time, a number of players graduated to the university level, including Shane Bergman, who in November won his second Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampeders.

“Every one of those kids that I coached with, every one of my co-coaches are all coming in with me,” said Merrick. “They’re part of what got me to where I am in terms of my coaching career. You learn so much from coaching kids and I have to be honest, some days I got more of a kick out of coaching than I did playing…. it was an absolute blast and I certainly look forward to getting back to it at some point.”

Merrick currently works as the vice principal at Paris District High School and hopes his career can serve as motivation to the current crop of youngsters dreaming of making it to the pro level.

“We all have the ability for improvement and for greatness, sometimes the issue is understanding how to get there,” he said. “Guys like John and others from the area that came before me showed its about hard work, how to direct that work and being specific with your training. Knowing that there’s more and working hard to get there, I think that’s the key. When you see someone else do it, you know you can.”

Merrick will be honoured alongside fellow Class of 2018 members Dave Baldock, the late Paul Davidson, David Edmonds, and Peter Timpf.

jrobinson@postmedia.com

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