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York Suburban's Merkle chasing York County passing record set by one of his coaches

PATRICK STROHECKER
YorkDispatch


The relationship between York Suburban High School quarterback Thomas Merkle and Matt Marshall goes back more than a decade.

Back then, Merkle would participate in the Trojans' youth football camp, which was run by Brian Marshall, Matt's father and the offensive coordinator at Suburban. Matt, who was the quarterback at Spring Grove at the time, would help out as an instructor.

Now, the 5-foot, 10-inch, 165-pound Merkle is the starting quarterback for the Trojans and Matt is a volunteer assistant with the team. The long-standing relationship between the two doesn't necessarily spark any significant interest on a normal level, except when you factor in what Marshall did during his time with the Rockets and what Merkle is doing now.

By the time Marshall graduated from Spring Grove in 2006, he was York County's all-time passing leader with 4,894 yards. That record still stands, almost a decade later. But, with each completion Merkle makes this year, he inches closer and closer to overtaking Marshall as the county's all-time leader.

"Honestly, up until recently, until I started getting close, I hadn't thought too much about it," Merkle said. "...I was first aware of it back like, almost right after the season back in the spring, but didn't think too much about it between winter and now."

Through the first half of his senior season, Merkle has passed for 952 yards. And after posting 1,367 yards as a sophomore and 1,588 as a junior, his career total sits at 3,907 yards. That puts him just 987 yards behind Marshall. But, before Merkle can think about the county record, there's another number he's chasing.

School record: Mike Beckley set the Suburban passing record back in 1998. In his time with the Trojans, he passed for 4,048 yards, meaning Merkle is a mere 141 yards from becoming the school's all-time leading passer. Based on the way Merkle has been throwing the ball this year, this Friday night's game against Susquehannock could be a milestone moment for the senior. Merkle is averaging 190.4 passing yards per game this fall, which puts him well on pace to break the school record this week. It was a goal that he never set out to achieve when he took over as the starting QB as a sophomore, but rather something that's just kind of happened along the way.

"Coming into it, I just wanted to help my team win and everything like that," Merkle said. "I've had a couple successful years and I guess it's just kind of turned out to be pushing these records."

Different systems: Merkle certainly possesses the physical attributes to put up record numbers. But, the things he can't control, such as offensive systems, hasn't made his football life a cakewalk during his Trojan career.

In his four years at the school, he's had three different coaches, playing under two of them. For his first two seasons, Merkle played in Jeremy Jones' spread attack. However, after Jones left in the offseason to become the head coach at West York, he then had to learn first-year coach Andy Loucks' new system. The transition from Jones' system to Loucks' system has been nearly flawless, a testament to Merkle as a student of the game.

"I think for Thomas, this is his third system in four years," Loucks said. "So, he's pretty adapted to change. I would think it would help him if he decides to go play somewhere else because he is able to pick up systems pretty quick."

Loucks was referring to college. Right now, Merkle is being looked at by a few smaller schools to play football, including Juniata College, Ursinus College and some other schools in Ohio.

Solid weapons: While throwing for thousands of yards is largely about the quarterback, it's not all on him. He still needs good receivers to throw to, and Merkle has them.

Merkle and senior Collin Mailman are one of the best quarterback-wideout duos in the York-Adams League, while Brad Smith isn't a bad second option. They've certainly made Merkle's job a lot easier.

"We've been having our combination since seventh or eighth grade," Merkle said about Mailman. "Overall, as a receiving corps, we're great. Brad Smith has really turned it up this year. He's over 300 yards already this year. Collin is having another great year, just like he did last year. So, I have more than just Collin to throw to, which a lot of people don't seem to notice. But, yeah, we have a lot of good targets for me to throw to."

Whether or not Merkle reaches Marshall's county record will come down to the very end of the season. Right now, based on Merkle's per-game averages, he'd come up about 40 yards shy of Marshall's record after the 10-game regular season. But, with the way Suburban is rolling right now, a playoff berth is certainly possible, which could ultimately be the difference between Merkle finishing second in York County history or eclipsing Marshall. The Trojans are 3-2 overall and have won three straight.

The two haven't discussed the potential scenario yet, but as it gets closer and closer, Marshall says there might be some light-hearted trash talk between them.

But, as far as Marshall is concerned, if his record does get passed, it'll be by a player with all the skills worthy of being the record holder.

"His physical attributes are great," Marshall said. "But, the nice thing about Thomas is he's a very coachable kid. You only have to tell him something a couple times and he really retains that knowledge, goes out and puts the work in on a daily basis and the results speak for themselves."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker