When Shawne Merriman played for Maryland football in the early 2000s, the defensive end bought a plain tank top, as popularized by rapper 50 Cent, and bedazzled it.

His fellow Terps weren't impressed.

"Out of love, my teammates clowned me to death," Merriman said. "But the idea was there. I didn't know how to do it, I just knew I wanted to do it."

After a tumultuous eight-year NFL career, Merriman has turned that vision into Lights Out, an apparel company and just one of the passions he's pursued in his post-playing days.

"I knew exactly what I wanted to do [after playing]," Merriman said. "It was about having a clear direction about getting it there."

Merriman, who went to Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, is spending time with the Washington media circuit this week to publicize his line of shirts. Though he's now based in Los Angeles, Merriman still has roots in Maryland.

Each fall, Merriman and his Lights On Foundation hold a coat drive before a Terps home football game, collecting cold weather clothing to be distributed to various East Coast cities, a tradition he started in 2003 as a member of the team.

He's also involved at Frederick Douglass and designed the uniforms for the Forestville Boys and Girls Club this year, with new designs on the way for next year.

"I'm here, even though I'm all around the country," Merriman said. "It's the best place, to me, that you can come."

Plus, Merriman credits his initial interest in fashion to his Prince George's County upbringing.

"I was always a sneakerhead," he said. "Your shirt had to always match your shoes. It was a must; just how we grew up."

Merriman's last NFL season was in 2012, and has turned his attention to Lights Out in retirement. But that doesn't mean he's focused on clothes all the time.

The 32-year-old has published articles for The Players' Tribune, recently bought a NASCAR team and makes regular TV appearances on channels like MTV and ESPN.

And though his days on the gridiron are done, Merriman won't rule out an appearance in the octagon.

Lights Out formed a partnership with Bellator MMA last year, but Merriman's been involved with the sport far longer than that. He said he trains alongside MMA fighters a couple of times a week.

"I really got into it around 2006," Merriman said. "But when I started to do it, it was really just trying to help my hand-eye coordination, the agility, the leverage, really for football. I still love being competitive. Staying in shape molds my mentality to keep wanting to do other great things."

It's that diversity of interests, Merriman said, that has helped him stay afloat after an NFL career that started with promise but quickly fizzled.

As a rookie in 2005, his 10 sacks helped earn him Defensive Rookie of the Year. Merriman reached the Pro Bowl the next two seasons, but injuries prevented him from collecting more than four sacks in any of his final five seasons.

Thanks to his off-field activities, though, Merriman's not had an issue.

"A lot of guys struggle with that," Merriman said. "It suddenly stops, and you try to find your next things. What's my next thing that I love to do?

"For me, since I had it lined up for so long, I was extremely comfortable and OK with moving to the next thing."