Wyoming Wideout Patiently Carving Out His Role
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl referred to it as a learning experience.
Caleb Merritt simply called it the hardest hit he's ever taken on a football field.
Early in the fourth quarter of Wyoming's annual spring game, quarterback Evan Svoboda heaved a deep ball into the end zone that was picked off by safety Buck Coors. Merritt, who was trailing on the play, immediately turned from wide receiver to would-be tackler.
That was the thought anyway.
As he began his pursuit, an unaware Merritt was blindsided by nickelback Wrook Brown and violently planted on the turf inside War Memorial Stadium, where he would stay for the next handful of minutes.
"I feel fine," the 5-foot-11, 187-pound St. Louis product said following the game. "They are telling me I'm not fine, though, so I'm headed to concussion protocol."
The redshirt freshman certainly showed he can take a lick. That will only help his case in his attempt to slide into the slot role for the Cowboys this fall.
If you took a quick glance at Merritt's TikTok account, you'd know he's putting in the work every day to achieve that goal. Seemingly every social media post the redshirt freshman shares is a video of himself running routes, catching out routes or perfecting his footwork.
"I love just working," he said. "The reason I came here to Laramie, Wyoming is to work. I'm going to try to give myself the best shot to try and contribute next year."
Bohl listed Merritt as one player who could see the field during his first season on the high plains. That did eventually happen, but it wasn't until the team's 13th game. That was a meeting with Ohio in the Arizona Bowl.
It wasn't just a brief stint on kickoff return, either.
With 10:31 remaining in regulation, Andrew Peasley connected with Merritt on a quick-hitter. The play went for just six yards. Not impressed? You should be. That lone catch birthed a new-found confidence.
It was the ultimate validator.
"That's not something that true freshmen do," Merritt said, crediting his coaches' belief in him. "I try to stay as humble as I can because there's always somebody better. There's always a bigger fish. But you have to take your wins when you can, and that was something that, coming at the end of the season -- the bowl game, especially -- that was something that gave me some confidence going into now. That's why I felt like if I worked hard enough now I can make that jump to exceed that this year."
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Wyoming's offensive coordinator Tim Polasek said Merritt is making the right strides. He wants him to excel on special teams. He raved about his physicality and football IQ, but said ultimately, as an all-around wideout, Merritt is a work in progress.
"I think he's carving out a little bit of a knack on some option routes and choice routes," Polasek said. "He's becoming a really good student of the game. He's really bright. He's got great leadership qualities.
"I never would forecast who's going to be captains, but he's most certainly got the ability to be one."
With those qualities, is anyone truly shocked that Power-5 programs like Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Purdue showed plenty of interest in the John Burroughs High School star? Ivy League schools like Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania offered the former three-star prospect.
Polasek is looking for a more polished version this fall. He said Merritt needs to improve his route running. He's too "indicator oriented," according to the third-year coordinator. In baseball terms, he's tipping his pitches.
"I think he's tightening down his fundamentals, his technique and his route running," Polasek added. "That's going to help him a lot, you know, because there is playmaking there."
The sophomore quarterback also called Merritt "captain material." He just needs to find his voice, he added.
"He's an awesome kid," Svoboda said. "He's probably the first person in the last person out every single day. He's super smart, especially for his age. He has been running with the ones since he's got here, which he's really impressed a lot of us."
Merritt is no stranger to being the go-to guy. He hauled in 36 passes for 536 yards and seven touchdowns during his senior season. He also added 230 yards on the ground on just 24 attempts. Merritt, who is also the Cowboys' reserve punt returner, made two house calls that season, too. One return came from 87 yards out, the other, 85.
Will Merritt be in the slot when Texas Tech rolls into town in early September? That's the hope.
If not, he added, the work will continue. It's about trust. Merritt says he has that in spades with this staff.
"Coaches are really the reason that I came here in the first place and they're the reason I'm still here now. I love them all," Merritt said. "They're very straightforward with what they're going to say whereas at other schools, I felt like -- no disrespect to those coaches at all -- they were trying to tell me things that I wanted to hear. That's not the case here at all.
"I don't want to hear the things I want to hear, I want to hear the things I need to hear. That's what's going to make you better as a player, as an athlete, as a man and as a human being."
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