Brentwood High School alum Walker Merrill has wasted no time making a good first impression in Knoxville.
The former Bruins receiver is participating in the University of Tennessee's spring practices and has already caught the eye of new Vols head coach Josh Heupel. Though Heupel was hired in late January from UCF and did not recruit Merrill, the 43-year-old coach praised the freshman's performance after UT’s second team scrimmage.
“He plays extremely hard,” Heupel said, via The Vols Wire. “He is smart, competitive, knows where he needs to be. As much as anything, it matters a great deal to him, and that pushes him and drives him, whether that is in the meeting room or catching extra balls off the JUGS machine during his spare time. Whether that is running extra routes, that is how he approaches everything he does. He has urgency.
“It matters to him, he wants to be great, and he is going to be a special player as his career continues to go on.”
Merrill, a four-star recruit, according to 247Sports composite rankings, chose Tennessee over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Then-head coach Jeremy Pruitt anticipated Merrill would filter into the receiving rotation in no time, but Pruitt was fired this winter after UT self-reported NCAA recruiting violations that happened under the then-coach's watch.
However, Heupel seems to see in Merrill the same thing Pruitt did: a talented freshman who could make an instant impact for the Vols.
At Brentwood, the 6-foot-1 wideout set school records for career receptions (200), receptions in a game (16) and single-game receiving yards (206). He also has the second-most receiving yards in a single season (1,173) in school history as well.
Merrill helped Brentwood reach the Class 6A state championship game in December, where they fell to the powerhouse Oakland Patriots.
Merrill isn’t the only former Bruin at Tennessee. He’s joined by former teammate and fellow freshman Chayce Bishop, who transferred from Brentwood to Independence, and Brentwood Academy alum and redshirt junior place kicker Toby Wilson.
Merrill faces some stiff competition among the rest of the Vols wide receivers, which include USC transfer and redshirt senior Velus Jones, Jr., redshirt seniors J.T. Siekerman, Tanner Dobrucky and Grant Frerking, redshirt junior Cedric Tillman, juniors Kenney Solomon and Ramel Keyton, redshirt sophomore Michael Bittner and sophomores Jimmy Calloway, Jalin Hyatt, Malachi Wideman, Andison Coby and Jimmy Holiday, and Knoxville Catholic redshirt freshman Jack Jancek.