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December 4, 2013

Merritt is Irwin County’s heart and soul

TIFTON — After an Irwin County Indian home football game this year, the coaches gathered and talked. A lot of the talk centered around the comment, “No. 7 played well tonight.”

“No. 7” is senior Antwuane Merritt, and he is having the type of season that should garner him state Class A Player of the Year consideration.

Merritt hardly comes off the field for the Indians.

He has 26 solo tackles, 34 assists, 4 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss yardage and 2 forced fumbles. Offensively, Merritt has rushed for 1,056 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averages 9.2 yards per rush and has a long run of 70 yards on the year.

Even without posting all-state numbers, Merritt would still be a valuable cog in the 10-1-1 Indian team.

When he is not making a tackle or gaining key yards running, Merritt can be seen bouncing around encouraging his teammates. It’s a job he takes seriously.

“I just try to keep them up. It’s not just a fight on Friday night, but it’s a war, and we all need to stay focused,” said Merritt. “I tell them we all need to do our best, and when we all do that good things will happen.”

Some of the players may not respond well, but Merritt also has answers for that.

“They may not like it, but I want them to correct their mistakes so they can get better and make us a better team. When I make a mistake, I want to learn from it and not do it again,” said Merritt.

Because of that, some players have taken to calling him “Coach Merritt.” The Irwin senior doesn’t mind it at all.

“I take it as a compliment,” he said.

His head coach, Jon Lindsey, welcomes the “addition” to his coaching staff.

“If I ever had to go to war, I would want Antwuane in the trenches with me. He is a tremendous kid,” said Lindsey.

This Friday, Irwin will be hosting Charlton in a rematch of a thrilling 29-26 regular season encounter that Irwin won on a last second field goal. This time the stakes are much higher though as the Irwin-Charlton matchup is for a chance to play for the state finals at the Georgia Dome Dec. 14.

Merritt is expecting another tough contest.

“I feel like they are going to try to run a lot of trick plays at us, and spread us out. I also think they are going to pass more than they run Friday night,” said the Irwin senior.

While this is the first time Irwin County has hosted a state semifinal game in 38 years, Merritt said he and the remainder of the Indian senior class have done their best this week to do one thing — focus.

“We have to stay focused. Our main goal is to beat Charlton County Friday night. This group of seniors will look back later and realize how special this year has been, but now is not the time to do it,” said Merritt. “We haven’t even mentionend the (Georgia) Dome.

“We are excited about Friday, and we hope for a big crowd.”

Game time is 8 p.m. in Ocilla.

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