As Walker Merrill assessed the landscape for Name, Image and Likeness opportunities as a burgeoning breakout wide receiver for the University of Tennessee, Merrill kept thinking about youth football.
Not about how Merrill, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and Hollywood likes, might make the most money.
About middle school. About how he ever got to be a consensus top-10 prospect in the Volunteer State out of Brentwood High School.
So Merrill looked around, appeared at some other camps and decided to set up his own opportunity for youths in the Midstate.
No marketing agency needed; no entanglements with any collectives. Just The Walker Merrill Football Experience to be held March 27 at Franklin Road Academy south of Nashville.
The event is centered around a youth camp for grades fifth through eighth for all positions and will have additional competitive elements for student-athletes through their senior years of high school.
“It’s crazy because I was asked to do a few of these camps, and it’s just wild because I never thought I’d be in a position to do that kind of thing,” Merrill told FootballScoop. “These camps were able to help little kids and go around and impact these kids’ lives, that’s something I want to do. I’m blessed to be in position.”
Merrill finds himself in his current position, he explains, in large part because of how formative these camps were in his development.
“Going to those camps at a young age, I remember I started pretty early, and it shows you how much competition there really is and everybody is working as hard as you, if not more,” Merrill said. “When you’re young, you maybe don’t really know what is going on and that type of competition is out there.
“It opens your eyes when everybody is working for the same goal. I don’t know how many D-1 scholarships are given out, but it’s very limited, and to get to where you want to go, you have to really work for it. I want to help these young kids see that and understand that.”
Buck Fitzgerald, a member of Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team who’s helped train countless Nashville-area prospects and helped them earn more than 100 collegiate scholarships, praised Merrill as mature beyond his years for his approach.
“Walker has been a leader among his peers in the state for a while now,” said Fitzgerald, who helped train future NFL players Josh Malone, Rashaan Gaulden, James Stone, Joejuan Williams and Derek Barnett, among others. “So it’s natural that he is the first athlete I know of that is doing an NIL camp.
“The fact that he is giving back to the community and making sure he services the underprivileged youth of Nashville speaks to his extremely high character. We (National Playmakers Academy) are proud to be a part of this historic event.”
Merrill’s camp will feature 7-on-7 competition including 15U and 18U teams, and an offensive/defensive linemen challenge – the Big Man Team Challenge – also for both 15U and 18U campers.
Mostly, though, Merrill hopes the learning experience extends well beyond this one event.
“I just want to keep the focus on the kids,” he told FootballScoop, “and I’ve got a younger brother, Clayton, who’s working hard. Hopefully he can fulfill his dreams, and I just want to help people.”