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PREP FOOTBALL Leetonia's Merrill a bear to bring down



Published: Fri, November 5, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

LEETONIA -- Aaron Merrill hopes to one day make sense of the many school records he's established at Leetonia High.

Just not now. Not with the Bears (8-2) gearing for their Division VI playoff game tonight at Malvern.

"Right now it's all kind of a blur," said Merrill, a senior fullback and linebacker. "Hopefully at the end of the season I'll actually get to see what I've done."

Merrill's football r & eacute;sum & eacute; includes 15 school records, including career marks in points scored (321), touchdowns (41), yards rushing (2,853) and total tackles (406).

"He's been a natural leader on our team since he was a freshman," said Matt Altomare, Leetonia's defensive coordinator and keeper of the program's historical data. "He never takes a day off from practice. The other players see that and react positively to that."

Center of the attack

The 6-foot, 230-pound Merrill is a key component in the Bears' wing-T offense, which is run-based with misdirection.

"He gets a lot of yardage after the first hit," Leetonia coach Art Altomare said. "Sometimes it looks like he's only going to get a yard, and he gets 3 or 4."

Merrill added, "Playing linebacker enables me to see the holes better [as a running back]. I'm not fast enough to outrun you, so basically I try to run through you."

This season Merrill has gained 1,245 yards on 161 carries and 23 touchdowns, of which 21 are rushing. He's also missed parts of two games because of a hamstring injury.

"It's just from hard work on and off the field," Merrill said of his success. "It's from working hard in the weight room and getting prepared for the next season, and from 10 other guys out there who help me do it."

Sharing the load

Merrill runs alongside backs Jamie Kegelmyer (891 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Jon Williams, and quarterback Cody Tittle.

"We've just been fortunate to have a good line and some good, hard running backs," said Art Altomare, whose team also broke the school rushing record with over 3,100 yards.

The runners' paths are paved by center Don Boyd, guards Andrew Billet and Nate DiCross, tackles Ryan Holliday and Anthony Danko and tight end Justin Baker.

"Our linemen might not be the biggest or fastest guys," Merrill said, "but they get down there and give everything they've got."

Merrill has shown he can perform in a variety of venues. In addition to his football records, the senior has earned a 3.95 grade-point average in the classroom.

"That work ethic comes from the football field," said Merrill, who most enjoys science. "It just applies to school. When I have assignments to do, I go at it with the same mentality as I would on the football field."

richesson@vindy.com




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