March 23 (UPI) -- Echoes from shouted snaps were hitting everyone else's ears while he whizzed around left tackles like he was coming down the backstretch at an international speedway.
When he arrived at his target, he took down gunslingers using an array of tactics until they fell to the ground in submission.
It makes sense why Shawne Merriman adores NASCAR and Mixed Martial Arts. He absolutely terrified opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks during his decorated eight-year NFL career.
That's what we call "Lights Out."
Merriman earned the nickname while starring at Frederick Douglass High School when he made four players unconscious in the same game. The name transitioned to his token post-sack dance, where he bent his knees while jumping and pumping his biceps in opposing directions, before giving a thunderous punch forward. Now the nickname is his brand.
Yes, the like the Chargers, Merriman eventually left San Diego. The glory years of hearing 70,000 screaming fans cheer his Pro Bowl performances are over. Now he tries to bottle that feeling into his post-pigskin life.
He is the man behind the apparel company "Lights Out." Merriman, 32, has moved into NASCAR as the car owner for Jesse Iwuji. He's considering moving his big hits into the cage as a professional Bellator MMA fighter. He is already a celebrity ambassador for the MMA production company.
"There have absolutely been some serious talks with me getting in the cage and if that goes down, great," Merriman said. "It's been something I have been wanting to do for a long time and what better way to do it than with Bellator?"
"I'm just going to keep training and keep putting in work because I don't know if that's going to happen or when that's going to happen, if that's a possibility. But I'm pretty sure if it was to happen, it's going to be a big deal. I would love for it to happen. I've said it all along, it's been something I've been wanting to do for a long time and until then we are just going to keep growing Lights Out."
Merriman was a three-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro. He led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2006. The 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year later finished as a runner up for Defensive Player of the Year. Merriman's 39.5 sacks through his first three seasons were the second-most in NFL history for any player in that timeframe.
"He has a real savvy business mind and he wants to grow his apparel brand," Bellator president Scott Coker told reporters in August. "I said, 'Look, why don't we work together to help you build your brand and you can get out there and talk about Bellator and we can have a nice friendly relationship."
"And then if you ever want to fight one day, we can have you fight."
Merriman says his MMA training will ramp up when negotiations intensify. The 260-pound athlete has traded pumping iron for speed and circuit training.
FOX Sports' Jay Glazer got Merriman started with the MMA training. Merriman said that the sport is gaining popularity in NFL locker rooms. It helps increase football skills like hand-eye coordination, agility, leverage, and flexibility.
PLAYER SAFETY MEETS NFL PRIORITIES
A nagging Achilles and balky knee were the biggest culprits in limiting the linebacker to just seven starts between his final three seasons. After three stellar years, he played just one game in 2008.
But he believes that whether it's MMA or the NFL, your body is in for pain.
"I think if you do anything physical, it's going to take a toll on your body," Merriman said. "Fortunately I was able to walk away from the game physically to be able to still train in MMA. I would just tell guys to be careful and to take care of your body. That's what It really comes down to is how well you take care of your body. Taking care of your body is a full time job and you have to be up to it."
Merriman says the NFL's investment to player safety is getting better, but he is among the players who oppose its effort to suffocate celebration.
"To try to control a guy's excitement is going to be extremely difficult," he said. "Unless you know what it feels like to make a game changing play or a game changing sack or a game winning touchdown, with 75,000 people yelling at the top of their lungs, and millions of people watching, I don't know if you can put a measurement on celebrations. I never liked that part of it. That was just something I was never for and totally against...I've seen some of the things happen this past year that I just didn't like. It not only takes the fun away from the game, but football is a very emotional and passionate sport. That's what makes the game great. You start tampering with that and to me, you take away from the game."
RACE IN NASCAR
As a boy growing up in an underserved community, Merriman had virtually no exposure to NASCAR. It wasn't until after he was selected with the No. 12 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and signed a 5-year, $11.5 million rookie deal, that he witnessed the asphalt action.
But he wants that trend to change.
"We got a chance to come in and be an owner of a team now, having Jesse Iwuji as a driver," Merriman said. "He is just an all-around great person. Outside of being a driver, he was active in the military, he is a former football player. He's dedicated to the sport and also bringing some diversity to an already great sport."
Merriman's "Lights Out" car made its debut in February at the K&K Pro Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway. It races again this weekend in California. He said watching races on TV is nothing compared to seeing it live.
"Unless you are exposed to it, that's the problem," Merriman said. "I grew up in Prince George's County, Maryland. My neighborhood was predominantly black. We were underprivileged. So growing up as a kid I was never presented the opportunity to be at a NASCAR race."
His first time came serving as grand marshal for the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. That excitement was the closest thing he's seen to running out of an NFL tunnel.
"11 or 12-year-old Shawne Merriman wouldn't be able to afford being at a race or to have the experience or opportunity to go to a NASCAR event," he said. "[Children could] see it for the first time and get some interest at a young age. I look at myself and Jesse and the diversity of the group in general. Just affording the opportunity of some younger minority kids to get exposed to the sport in general."
A 2014 NPR report stated that 80 percent of the sport's fan base is white.
He still considers his career a success, despite never advancing past a conference championship. With the average NFL career spanning just 3.3 years, his tried tenure was an outlier. His undeniable passion now lies in "Lights Out."
"Let me tell you, running out to 70,000 people and a million more watching, Sunday Night or Monday Night Football and you are the only show in town, and everybody is watching. It is extremely hard to replace that feeling. The only thing to replace the feeling is, for me, that I have the same passion for was "Lights Out." And I have always felt that "Lights Out" was bigger than one person. That is why we are building out these teams."
He has dreamed of building "Lights Out" since his sophomore year of high school.
"Building out these teams has been my ultimate dream since I had the name 'Lights Out,'" Merriman said. "This is a dream I had back then. Right now I'm getting a chance to fulfill it, but I'm fulfilling it through having these different teams in different sports who are creating groundbreaking things. I can't even thank NASCAR enough for opening their arms to want to make the sport even bigger than what it is, which is crazy to say, just by having more people exposed to it that wouldn't have the opportunity before to even do it. Allowing myself to be a platform. Allowing Jesse or anyone of color or any minority to be able to bridge the gap to bring more people to get involved."
"The acceptance and love I received from the NASCAR world has just been great."