Wyoming’s lone 3-star recruit a true student of the game
LARAMIE -- Wyoming's lone three-star recruit is an avid chess player who received offers from Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania.
Though he's signing his letter of intent Wednesday afternoon, Caleb Merritt is in the midst of finals week.
That takes priority.
You might have guessed the senior at John Burroughs School in St. Louis possesses a high IQ. He's also realistic. He knows only the few elite make a living playing football.
The 6-foot, 180-pound wide receiver fielded plenty of offers from the Ivy League, but he also turned down Power-5 rides to Purdue, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State. Five other Division-I programs wanted his services, too. Rivals.com is the website that tossed that trio of stars behind his name.
That begs the question: why Wyoming?
"Because of the coaching staff," Merritt said bluntly. "When I was at a huge football camp in St. Louis, the whole staff was there. They said 'you have an offer from Wyoming.' They took me on my official visit and I fell in love. I felt like it was a family, a culture. So many coaches in recruiting just go through the motions and look to plug guys in their system. I could tell Wyoming's staff was really looking out for me. They want to develop me as a person and as a football player. They are looking for more than just someone who can run a 4.5 40."
Merritt, who was limited to just six games this fall because of a shoulder injury, did plenty of damage during that brief timeframe.
He snagged 536 yards worth of passes. He rushed for an additional 230 yards. He hauled in two kick returns. He took both to the house. That earned him First Team All-State honors.
Merritt accounted for nine total touchdowns for head coach, John Merritt, who is also his father.
In just five game during the virus-shortened 2020 season, he caught 18 passes for 317 yards and three scores. He added 219 more on the ground. Also playing defensive back, Merritt grabbed an interception and tallied 20 tackles. He was named to the Post-Dispatch Super 30 team. He ranked No. 19.
He said coaches in Laramie have laid out a vision for what he could eventually become.
"The thing they don't have right now is a dynamic slot guy," Merritt said. "They said they really don't have a guy who can run the jet sweep, get off the edge or tear up the middle of the field on a post route. The skill set I have, along with a guy like Isaiah, opens up a lot of field."
Of course, he's is referring to Isaiah Neyor, the Cowboys 6-foot-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman, who caught 39 balls for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Merritt said he didn't watch a lot of college football in years past. That all changed this fall. Aside from the Ball State game -- Merritt was on his second official visit that afternoon -- he watched every UW game on television.
He would take meticulous notes, study formations and even occasionally allow himself to daydream about playing on that field, in that uniform. He studies wide receivers, their movements, footwork and route running. He jots down names and asks himself one simple question -- 'why?'
Why did they plant and cut when they did?
Why did they not take advantage of outside leverage?
Why did it all work?
"I definitely have a lot to learn," Merritt said, adding that growing up the son of a coach has helped him learn how to breakdown game film. "Over the course of the next three to four years, I'm going to keep trying to learn from people who are successful."
He's already been around players like that.
His father has coached Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys), Foye Oluokon (Atlanta Falcons), John Moten (Northwestern), Chris Booker (Ohio State) and DJ Miller (Iowa State). John Merritt said his son has looked to this group as role models since he was 8 years old.
"He's been in our locker room," his father said. "He's been to big games. He's seen college football up close and thinks he has a place in it."
At roughly 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Merritt will scribble his name on an official acceptance letter and pound a number that starts with 307 into the fax machine.
Why? It's the right fit for him.
He loves the family atmosphere inside and outside of football. He witnessed firsthand the passion of the fanbase in Laramie. "It's really cool to go somewhere where everyone cares about you," he added.
When asked if there's a correlation between chess and football, Merritt laughed.
Sure, he loves the pageantry of the big pass play and the diving catch. So much so he'll often go right to YouTube to watch them again. But for Merritt, the strategy of how that play even came about is what captivates him.
"Football is a chess game," he said. "That's the most beautiful part of the game. It's so much more than a dynamic offense. Can you count how many guys are in the box, pull in a tight end to get six blockers and really break something loose? Can you read the defensive coverages and see the tendencies of the safeties? If they are two or three steps inside the hash, do you drop into a hook curl?
"... It's fun to learn how all the pieces move. Each player is a piece in a chess game. It only takes one mistake to get exploited and then you can take over the whole game."