Four years ago, I watched a scrappy freshman more than hold his own for the vaunted Solon football team.
That was my first encounter with James Morris.
You could tell back then that he was special; much like Tim Dwight was at City High in the early 1990s, but with a different skill set and a different body.
Morris is now a scrappy freshman once again. And just like back at Solon, he is more than holding his own, but on a much bigger stage and with more at stake.
Injuries to Jeff Tarpinian and Bruce Davis have left a void at middle linebacker on the Iowa football team, but Morris has kept it from becoming a crisis.
Morris made his first career start against Michigan State last Saturday and finished with nine tackles during the 37-6 beat down at Kinnick Stadium.
He is expected to start against Indiana on Saturday, partly out of necessity, but also because he deserves to.
Part of his responsibility as the middle linebacker is to relay the play calls from the coaches to the other defensive players on the field.
So you’re talking about a kid who just a year ago was playing against the likes of Tipton and Camanche now directing a huddle that includes all-Big Ten senior defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
“To stand in front of our defensive line as a true freshman, you’d think most kids would probably be intimidated,” said junior strong safety Tyler Sash. “He stands in front and makes all the checks to all those guys up front.
“He does a great job of getting people lined up and he played well (against Michigan State).”
Morris has made the transition from Class 2A football to Big Ten football look easy, even though it isn’t.
He has done so not only because of his immense physical ability, but also because of his personality, his intelligence, his work ethic, his moxie and his self-confidence.
He was overlooked by most colleges because he committed to Iowa so early in the recruiting process, but also because he played for a small school in Iowa.
Hawkeye fans should be glad about that because Morris probably would’ve been a hot commodity if the other college coaches knew what the Iowa coaches knew about him.
But instead, he was Iowa’s little secret, although, it wouldn’t have mattered what the other coaches thought about him because Morris was raised to be a Hawkeye.
He grew up around the Iowa football program, with his father, Greg Morris, being the long-time equipment manager.
James knew early on that he wanted to be a Hawkeye. He then set out to achieve that goal by becoming one of the most dominant high school players in state history as a running back/linebacker.
James was only half way through high school when he committed to the Iowa football team as a sophomore.
“He’s grown up around it, which I think helps,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Morris being around the program. “It’s certainly an advantage.
“I think it’s more so just the way he’s wired. He’s got a good football mentality. He’s very serious about it, committed.”
Morris is very serious about a lot of things, not the least of which is academics.
As well as he has played against Michigan State, his performance Monday through Friday in the classroom is equally impressive according to Ferentz.
“He finds time to do both,” Ferentz said. “So he must not have much social time. But that’s okay.”
The reporters that haven’t had a chance to interview Morris have no clue what they’re missing.
Ferentz has a rule that prohibits true freshman from speaking to the media. He implemented the rule in order to give his new players a chance to adjust to the black and gold fishbowl.
But if there is one true freshman that could handle the spotlight so soon, it’s Morris.
His gift to play football is matched by his gift for gab, another thing Morris has in common with Dwight.
They both can make you laugh without even trying to be funny. It just comes natural like so many other things that make them both special.
“He an intelligent guy,” Ferentz said of Morris. “He’s a communicator. He’s not bashful.”
Now you just hope that Morris stays healthy because if the present is this good, imagine what his future could be.
It’s hard not to smile when you think about it.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football