Sam Merriman is arguably one of the best defensive football players ever to step on the field at the University of Idaho. He was a key part of UI’s football rise in power during the early 1980s. He played his first two seasons under coach Jerry Davitch and then his final two years under Dennis Erickson.
Merriman was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, where he was heavily involved in sports, including rodeo. He also made his mark on the football field and appeared to be headed to Northern Arizona University until a coach change saw him wind up at Idaho instead.
Merriman played linebacker at Idaho during 1979-83. He was a four-year starter and led the team in tackles his final three seasons. He earned all-conference honors all four seasons, including first-team all Big Sky his senior year. He was the team’s defensive MVP both his junior and senior seasons.
Merriman is the program’s all-time leading tackler with 519, which is 58 more than any other UI player. He had at least 111 tackles in every season, including 145 as a junior, which is the fourth-highest total in UI history. He is also tied for the all-time lead in career fumble recoveries with seven.
His most memorable game as a Vandal came in UI’s first NCAA Division I-AA playoff game, which was in 1982 at home against Montana when he made three consecutive goal-line tackles late in the fourth quarter when Montana had the ball inside the Idaho 2 to preserve the UI win.
Merriman played in the East-West Shrine Game and caught the attention of the Seattle Seahawks, who drafted him in the seventh round in the 1983 draft. He made his mark as an outstanding player on special teams for five seasons. He was penciled in as a starter during his sixth season, but suffered a career-ending knee injury in the second preseason game.
Merriman now resides in Tucson, Ariz., where he helps with area rodeos, a passion he has had since his youth.