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HONORING LOCAL LEGENDS: Merritt among 2017 Andalusia High School Football Hall of Fame inductees

Denny Merritt had a stellar career for Andalusia during the 70s, and will be inducted into the 2017 Andalusia High School Football Hall of Fame class this month.

“I’m very honored to just be considered, much less be selected,” Merritt said. “It’s such a privilege to be selected. When I was playing at Andalusia, it took everyone around us to make us look good. It took teammates, coaches and support of the community for us to have such a successful program. We were very fortunate to have such a great program and amazing support from the community. Another reason that it’s special is because all of the teams that I played on at Andalusia have been inducted. My induction is a reflection of those teams.”

Merritt was a four-year starter for the Bulldog football team from 1974-1977.

“I started out playing on defense my freshman year, but then moved to center and that’s where I stayed,” Merritt said. “It was an eye-opening experience starting as a freshman. We played against a lot of guys that were a good bit bigger than I was, but that had a lot to do with how we played. Our system was based on having small, quick offensive linemen.”

During his time at Andalusia, Merritt was a big part of the Bulldogs’ state championships during the 1976 and 1977 seasons.

“We shared the state title with Athens my junior year,” Merritt said. “Back in those days, you didn’t play out of tie in the state championship game, but my senior year we won the state title outright. The championship games were always exciting, but it’s where we expected to be every year. With Coach (Don) Sharpe, we had high expectations and set lofty goals. That’s just the way Coach Sharpe was. Some of the more fonder games that I remember would be when we would play against teams that were up a class. We were Class 3A at the time and we would play 4A teams like Enterprise and we beat them every time. At that time, 4A was the highest classification. Really, my entire playing career at Andalusia was very memorable”

He played both ways at Andalusia under head coach Sharpe, and the Bulldogs complied a 50-2-1 record during that span.

“It was quite an experience playing for Coach Sharpe,” Merritt said. “It was a very rewarding experience. Playing for Coach Sharpe is when I developed a strong work ethic. He was demanding, but we were very fortunate to have a coach like him.”

As a junior, Merritt was named Andalusia’s Most Improved Offensive Lineman in 1976. His junior season was also when Merritt began receiving offers from colleges around the nation.

“At times the recruiting process could get a bit overwhelming,” Merritt said. “It was an honor and a privilege to have so many schools vying for me to come. That is a credit to the Andalusia program and to all of my coaches. I was recruited because of the team and players that I played with. It took a team to make us look good.”

In 1977, he earned the Most Dedicated Offensive Lineman Award, and was placed on the permanent Team Captain list.

Merritt was also named to the first-team All-State roster as an offensive lineman by the Montgomery Advertiser, Birmingham Post Herald and the Birmingham News.

The Birmingham News also named him to the Super All-State team.

During his senior season in 1977, Merritt was an honorable mention for the Parade All-American team and was selected to play in the Alabama High School All-Star Game in Tuscaloosa.

Merritt would then make Tuscaloosa his temporary home when he signed a scholarship to the University of Alabama to play football for Paul “Bear” Bryant.

“I picked the University of Alabama because of the winning tradition and Coach Bryant,” Merritt said. “In a player’s eyes, if you are going to put in the hard work and effort, you want to win. That’s why I went with Alabama. For me at the time, it came down between Alabama and Auburn.”

Merritt said that during his recruitment, Bryant came to Andalusia to visit.

“The recruitment process could be overwhelming at times, but it was fun,” Merritt said. “I remember when Coach Bryant came down to Andalusia while they were recruiting me and we went and played in the Domino World Championship.”

Playing at Alabama was great experience, Merritt said.

“Coming in that first year reminded me of playing as a freshman at AHS,” Merritt said. “It was a big step and an eye-opening experience. I really enjoyed my time at Alabama and we were fortunate to have a lot of success.”

While at Alabama, Merritt was a part of two SEC and National Championship teams.

“Those national championships and SEC championships were incredible to be a part of,” Merritt said. “Every game against Auburn was amazing and there were a lot of other great moments at Alabama. We were on a national stage and we would have celebrities that would come to practices and games.”

Playing for the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was special, Merritt said.

“Coach Bryant was an icon in football, and sports in general,” Merritt said. “It was a huge honor to play for him. He had great philosophies on football and life in general. He taught me a lot about who I am today.”

Merritt had a funny story about Bryant from a practice during his freshman season at Alabama.

“It was my first year at Alabama and we had just started fall practice,” Merritt said. “We had been practicing for about four hours, and two of those were in scrimmage. Well, Coach Bryant fell asleep up in the tower and because everyone was scared to wake him up, we just had to keep practicing. The coaches finally caught on that he was asleep and they dialed back the practice intensity, because it was so hot and we had been out there in it for a while. Finally, one of the coaches woke him up and he ended practice.”

Merritt currently works as an investigator for the Montgomery County DA’s Office, White Collar/Public Corruption Division.