Nov. 2, 2005
By Caitlin Johnson
BERKELEY, Calif. - From a walk-on to a full-time starter, senior guard Aaron Merz has improved steadily and rapidly to claim a spot on a nationally-recognized offensive line that has produced nine 100-yard rushers this season. A viable candidate for All-Pac-10 honors in 2005 after claiming honorable mention all-conference status last year, Merz missed spring workouts due to shoulder surgery, but is now in full health for his senior campaign.
How difficult was it to come back from your injuries this season?
Aaron Merz: "The shoulder surgery was pretty routine. I have it every off-season. It's just one of those things that you have to patient with and you know that you are going to come back from it. The concussion [suffered against Washington] was actually similar. It was a little more frustrating because there is nothing you can rehab. There is nothing you can do. You can't play through it because it is too risky. I just had to sit back and wait and let my head clear up, but my body is probably better for it. A couple weeks of rest, and I feel a lot better now than I did at all before that, and I am playing better now too. This is actually my fourth concussion."
What do you expect out of the rest of the season?
Merz: "I expect us to be getting better; you can really see the youth coming along. Everybody is starting to learn their role a little better and make more plays. I know that we will be physical every week and I love knowing that as soon as the other team's defense comes off the field they know they played the toughest, most physical offensive line they have seen all year."
You went from a walk-on to a full-time starter. How would you describe your development as a player at Cal?
Merz: "I didn't have a lot of coaching in high school, where I had a lot of physical potential but not necessarily anyone who knew how to get me to use it. So, I got the whole Cal coaching staff to take a chance on me, and then coach [Jim] Michalczik came in and started shaping me, and all of us really...None of us play like we used to. He pretty much has changed everything that we do and he makes us emulate a lot of what the pros do and teaches us a lot of that technique. I guess I just kind of soaked it all up. And, I think I have always done a good job of mentally preparing so that whatever I wasn't able to do physically I could put myself in a good position."
Do you have any special routines that you do to prepare yourself for games?
Merz: "Last week I forgot my bathroom kit and it was the first game that I didn't shave before...so I am feeling pretty guilty about that now that we lost. I always shave and shower the morning of the game. I don't usually shave, so that will be the only day of the week that I do shave. And then on the bus to the stadium I am always listening to techno. I always get happy, I always play football happy."
Because you guys have a veteran offensive line, would you consider yourself and the rest of the veteran lineman the leaders of the team?
Merz: "In some ways, yes - definitely on offense. The defense also has a lot of experience. On the offensive side we are the leaders, we are battle-tested. There is nothing we are seeing now that we haven't already seen before. In terms of how the crowd can change the game, how momentum swings, we are use to that, and we are use to dealing with adversity and just working through it. Sometimes the younger guys aren't always ready for adversity, and I think we are really consistent with our demeanor and you never really see us panic. I think that that shows a lot of leadership to the other guys and helps them relax and just try to have fun."