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Shawne Merriman: Chargers star puts talents into MMA company
After his stellar NFL career was shortened by injury, former San Diego Chargers star Shawne Merriman has found his home in sports with his MMA company “Lights Out Xtreme Fighting.” (Credit: Robert Hanashiro, USAT, USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Shawne Merriman: Chargers star puts talents into MMA company

LOS ANGELES (BVM) – While his time in the NFL was briefer than anyone had anticipated following his breakout rookie season in 2005, former San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman will always be fondly remembered for having one of the best three-year stretches to begin a career ever. The elite defender went from Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl nods to back-to-back All-Pro selections in just three seasons, however, injuries would dampen any future success for Merriman, extinguishing a career that seemed destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

While Merriman’s NFL journey may not have reached the heights many had thought it would, the former football star has been able to use his platform and his brand, Lights Out, to build another life in sports entertainment.

Early life and high school football

Growing up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, it didn’t take long for Shawne Merriman to strike fear into opposing players. An incredible athlete who would excel both in football and basketball for Frederick Douglass High School in the city, Merriman earned his now famous “Lights Out” moniker as just a sophomore, when the linebacker knocked four opponents unconscious including three in the first half.

From that point on, the lights were seemingly always out as Merriman went on to lead his Eagles’ team in tackles each of his three seasons on the varsity level, finishing his career as the program leader in tackles with 443. As a senior, Merriman posted 158 tackles, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked punts.

For his efforts that season, he was selected as first-team all-state and Maryland Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, first team All-Metro by The Washington Post and was named a SuperPrep All-American.

Merriman was, unsurprisingly, a hot recruiting commodity ranking as the No. 288 overall prospect, No. 14 outside linebacker prospect and the No. 2 Maryland prospect in the Class of 2002 according to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings. The linebacker attracted attention from across the country including Notre Dame, South Carolina, Syracuse and North Carolina State, but he ultimately chose to stay close to home at the University of Maryland.

University of Maryland

Repping his home state team, Merriman quickly proved why he was so highly touted at the prep level. As a true freshman in 2002, Merriman saw action in all 14 games with one start and finished the year third on the team with five sacks to go along with 49 tackles, six tackles for loss and five pass deflections.

The next year, the linebacker did even better. He played in all 13 games for the Terps, starting five and tied for second in the ACC with 8.5 sacks while registering 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.

Merriman’s junior season of 2004 would be his best for the Maryland Terrapins. He played and started all 11 games while leading the team with 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks and finishing second on the team with 85 tackles, three forced fumbles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He was named All-American honorable mention for his efforts.

The standout linebacker entered the NFL Draft following his junior season, finishing his Terps career with 32.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. His 22 sacks are still the third-most in program history while his tackles for loss have him ranked in the top 10 at No. 9.

Shawne Merriman University of Maryland linebacker
Merriman still ranks in the top 10 in Maryland program history in sacks and tackles for loss. (Credit: Joe Robbins/USA TODAY Sports)

NFL career

After strong performances during the NFL Combine and his pro day, Merriman was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the No. 12 overall pick in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. The pick used to select Merriman was one the team had acquired a year earlier in the trade that sent quarterback Eli Manning to the New York Giants in exchange for quarterback Phillip Rivers.

It didn’t take Merriman long to establish himself in the NFL. In his first season, the linebacker played in 15 games with 10 starts, registering 57 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five pass deflections and two forced fumbles on his way to being named to the Pro Bowl and the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The next season, Merriman proved his rookie campaign was no fluke. The linebacker played and started 12 games, missing four due to a suspension, and recorded a league-leading 17 sacks. In addition to his sack total, Merriman also recorded 63 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, eight pass deflections, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. This helped the second-year star earn first-team All-Pro honors, his second Pro Bowl nod and finish top three in voting for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.

Merriman again excelled in his third year, playing and starting 15 games while registering 68 tackles, a league-leading 19 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, six pass deflections, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The linebacker was named to the Pro Bowl for his third straight season and also earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Unfortunately, Merriman’s career wouldn’t see many more highs. During the 2008 season, Merriman tore two ligaments in his left knee and, although he tried to play through it for one game, ultimately underwent surgery and missed the rest of the campaign.

The linebacker came back in 2009 to play and start 14 games for the Chargers but was a shell of himself registering just 36 tackles, five tackles for loss and four sacks. In 2010, Merriman was slowed by injuries which limited him to just three games and one start where he failed to record a sack and only had six total tackles. He was released by the Chargers during the season, ending his tenure with San Diego.

In 2011, the Buffalo Bills signed Merriman, but he just wasn’t the player he used to be. In two seasons in Buffalo, Merriman played in just 15 games with six starts, recording 26 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. The former Pro Bowler retired in 2013 at just 28 years old,  finishing his career with 45.5 career sacks, 39.5 of which came in his first three seasons.

Shawne Merriman Buffalo Bills linebacker
Merriman finished his injury-plagued NFL career with just 45.5 career sacks, 39.5 of which came during his first three seasons in the league. (Credit: Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports)

Retirement

Though his football career ended, Merriman never truly stayed away from athletics. Just a couple of months after he announced his retirement, Merriman announced he would compete on “American Ninja Warrior.” Unfortunately, it did not go the way he had anticipated.

In 2014, it was announced that Shawne Merriman would join the WWE after he appeared in a pre-show broadcast of WrestleMania XXX, though he never made an official appearance for the company. 

Instead, Merriman joined the NFL Network as an analyst where he would work for a handful of years before joining the team at Fox Sports and launching his own podcast “Lights Out with Shawne Merriman” which aired 80 episodes from Sept. 2020-Aug. 2021. Though never a true member of the WWE lineup, Merriman didn’t shy away from his love for the company during his time with Fox. 

After attempting and failing to land in both Japanese martial arts and bare-knuckle fighting events, Merriman decided he was not quite done fighting as he launched his own mixed-martial arts company “Lights Out Xtreme Fighting” in April 2019. 

Today, Merriman is committed to building Lights Out  Xtreme Fighting and his Lights Out brand, looking to expand with a new sports venue in the near future according to an appearance he made on Sports Illustrated’s  “The Bag” Podcast on Sept. 7. Though his NFL career may not have ended the way he or anybody else expected, Merriman continues to have an impact on sports entertainment long after his playing days.

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