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Nobody playing on this year's football team at Rocky Mountain College has more seniority than Weston Merrill.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive lineman, who first signed with Rocky in 2005 and redshirted that fall, chalked up three tackles and a surprising touchdown during last Saturday's victory at Dickinson State University.

"Lots of fun, that's for sure," Merrill said of the Battlin' Bears' 2-0 start to the season. "Winning is fun."

The bearded, 25-year-old, a fifth-year senior from Buffalo, Mont., is hoping the good times continue -- especially for a fairly young Rocky squad -- on Saturday afternoon when the Bears host Frontier Conference newcomer Southern Oregon University in their home opener.

As far as he is concerned, Merrill, a reliable backup at defensive end, believes this is the best team he has been a part of at Rocky.

"It's not that we have one superstar or anything like that, but the whole team is just solid," he said. "I really like that. The other thing, too, about myself is I've never been in better shape in my life. That's been a big help personally."

Game time Saturday is set for 1 p.m. on Herb Klindt Field.

Rocky, 1-0 in conference play and 2-0 overall after beating DSU 30-19, will be going for its first 3-0 start since 1998. Southern Oregon is 1-0 in league and overall after winning its season opener last weekend against Montana Western 54-21 in Medford, Ore. 

The Bears are 0-3 all-time against the Raiders, with the teams last playing in 2004 in Billings. SOU won that game 13-7.

"It will be tough," Merrill said of the matchup. "From watching them on film, their quarterback is a good pocket passer. The word on the street is he doesn't like to get hit. He doesn't like to scramble. So, as a D-lineman, that makes me excited because I'll get some pressure and get him frustrated.

"Their wide receiver corps is also supposed to be really athletic, really good. ... It will be a good battle, but if we just stick to our fundamentals, reading our keys, alignment and assignment, that kind of thing, we'll be able to beat them."

Merrill, who will turn 26 on Oct. 14 and is known for his mental toughness out on the field, grew up on a ranch in Buffalo and was a three-sport athlete for the combined Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap high schools.

He went on a two-year mission to Argentina for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shortly after the 2005 football season at Rocky.

Merrill rejoined the Bears in 2008, but suffered a torn hamstring in fall camp and didn't see any action until late in the season.

He received a medical redshirt in 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery in September, but has been a durable defender for the Bears since 2010, with 29 career tackles and four sacks.

Teammates these days sometimes tease him about being one of Rocky's oldest players.

"I love it," he said. "It's kind of funny because the D-line coach, coach (Adam) Husk, we came in and redshirted together (in 2005). He's been done (playing) for two or three years now, so it's kind of fun to have him as a coach."

The rare touchdown at DSU was also a lot of fun. It was the second of Merrill's collegiate career, with both coming on pass receptions two years apart.

With the Bears in their short-yardage Kodiak formation, he lined up as a wing and wound up reeling in a 3-yard pass from quarterback Bryce Baker in the front corner of the end zone to put Rocky up 24-13 over the Blue Hawks with 11:23 left in the fourth quarter.

"I actually ran almost shoulder-to-shoulder with their corner, whoever was out there," Merrill said. "But he thought for sure it was a run and he must of went and filled a gap, because when I turned around there was nobody around me."

While Merrill, who wears jersey No. 96, got his number called on the pivotal play, the game's official statistician mistakenly credited the touchdown to Rocky's No. 86, tight end Cale Vukonich.

That's the way it appeared in the final game stats -- and in the newspaper and other media.

"I just had to laugh," Merrill said a few days later. "The first thing I thought of was, that's the story of the D-line, right? We don't get in the big-time stats very often. It only makes sense that when you do, oh nope, it had to be Cale, the tight end."

Vukonich, however, wasn't even on the field.

Merrill married Shannon Hildreth, a former Rocky basketball standout, in June 2010. Their first child, daughter Raelynn, was born the middle of last month -- and she hasn't missed a Bears' game yet.

"It's the best feeling in the world," Merrill said of becoming a father. "Even better than catching touchdowns."

That's why he isn't complaining about juggling family responsibilities, 17 credits of classwork and football. A strong student, he will graduate in December with a degree in business management.

"It's been crazy," Merrill said of the past few weeks. "It's been awesome, quite the adventure.

"Obviously there's some stressful times and everything. Football is the perfect release for that stress."

Especially when the team is winning -- and touchdown passes are coming your way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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