As a sophomore on Foothill’s junior varsity team, Brandon Merryman threw for 465 yards. As a junior, his passing total was zero.
That’s because the Cougars asked Merryman to fill a role at wide receiver with Shasta County Sports Offensive Player of the Year Jayden Gordon already under center.
In his senior year, Merryman picked up the quarterback role again and dazzled, throwing for 2,209 yards on 138-of-253 passing and 22 touchdowns. He added 481 yards rushing on 102 carries and nine more scores.
“I can only imagine what he might’ve accomplished if he’d been at quarterback the whole time,” Foothill coach Joey Brown said. “He never complained about being a wide receiver and when things got tough (in 2019) he never asked to go back to wideout.”
Merryman is this year’s Shasta County Sports Offensive Player of the Year, presented by Clear View Auto Glass, keeping the honor tucked safely away at Bill Johnson Community Stadium.
And while the Cougars finished at 6-6 with a semifinal playoff exit to Chico — short of the goals Brown and the team had coming into the season — Merryman’s offensive prowess and will often put Red Thunder in a position to be successful.
A pure passer, Brown said Merryman’s ability to be a dual threat added a dimension to the Cougars’ offense. Not as fast as Gordon, but with a better deep-ball arm, Merryman had a pick-your-poison set of skills that made scheming for Foothill a headache.
“Where Jayden didn’t really like the RPO (run-pass-option), Brandon had no problem pulling and running,” Brown said. “His unpredictability was such an asset.
“He could extend plays, but still looked downfield.”
And that’s often where Merryman delivered the dagger — most often to Tyler Carey, an All-County wideout.
The fleet receiver was the recipient of 14 scoring strikes, as Carey was a weapon that most defenses had to game-plan for.
Merryman’s blend of arm and legs were on display often and the weapon he beats opponents with depended on the situation.
In a preleague home game against Eureka, Merryman dropped back for a first-half 9-route to a streaking Carey. The QB took his drop, stepped into the throw and watched as the pigskin set sail in the crisp September air. The ball, having traveled some 40 yards in the air, touched down deftly in Carey’s arms and he did the rest for what should’ve been a 78-yard scoring strike. But a holding call brought back the textbook scoring play.
Undaunted, Merryman put his legs to use on a 54-yard first-half TD run.
“The Loggers are formidable and he took off and outraced everyone,” Brown said. “I don’t think we undervalued his run game, but we were like ‘OK, he can move.’ ”
But Foothill trailed 10-7 and Merryman made something happen in the third quarter, engineering a short-field score on a 17-yard run after the special teams set Foothill up in plus-territory.
On the play, the Eureka line looked like it would have a sack after the secondary blanketed Merryman’s receivers in the shortened red zone. But, the slippery quarterback found a lane up the gut, tucked the ball, made a juke at the 10 and high-stepped into the end zone for a 14-10 edge, a score that would hold up for the hosts.
Chris Combs saw Merryman and the Cougars twice in 2019. His Enterprise Hornets dropped a 38-0 regular season contest and a 47-26 playoff tilt.
In the regular season meeting, Merryman torched the Hornets for 269 yards in the air and two scores while adding 71 yards rushing and two more TDs.
“When you get a dual-threat quarterback, it’s really pick your poison on whether you want to get beat on the run or on the pass,” Combs said.
And while the Enterprise coach said they game-planned against Merryman’s arm, it wasn’t his arm or legs that were the difference maker.
“His best attribute isn’t necessarily his athleticism,” Combs said, “it’s his decision-making. That’s makes a good quarterback great.”
For Merryman’s coach, seeing the maturation was exciting along the journey of 2019.
“He was always a pure passer who could get by without really reading defenses,” Brown said. “When he came to us (as quarterback in his senior year), we had him slow down, learn to read what the defenses were giving and you could see the light bulb go off.
“He got better and better and I think he could play at the next level.”