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Morris puts in the work to meet his own lofty expectations

[ 3 ] March 30, 2012 |

Maybe it’s appropriate that linebacker James Morris showed up for Wednesday’s media gathering sporting a mustache because the next time he plays in a game for the Iowa football team he’ll be an upperclassman.

Morris as a junior-to-be already is halfway through his college football career.

He’s already started 17 games for the Hawkeyes. He’s already made 173 tackles. And he’s already suffered through 11 losses, including eight in the Big Ten.

Morris has shown that he can hold his own at the BCS level. You don’t play as much as he has or as soon as he did by accident or because your father is the head equipment manager.

You do so because you’re good enough to do so.

But that’s not good enough for Morris.

His mindset this spring is that he expects more from himself and from the team for which he grew up cheering.

“Nobody on this team has played on an Iowa football team that won a Big Ten title,” Morris said in reference to Iowa not having won a Big Ten title since 2004. “So if you think you can win a Big Ten championship and not change what your behavior was during the last four years, you’re wrong because the behavior you’ve exhibited has not resulted in a Big Ten championship.

“So something has to change.”

Morris then reeled off a bunch of things he’s doing to initiate this change. He’s trying to sleep better and eat better and plan better and focus better and do a better of job of watching film.

He grew a mustache as part of his change to look better, but only because he couldn’t grow a beard.

A reporter asked Morris on Wednesday what he could do to avoid being a step slow or step behind on certain plays.

“I just want to make sure that I’m doing the little things right and I’m shortening that gap so that I’m not a half step or a step short or whatever it may be,” Morris said. “I’m making sure that I have a plan of action when I go out to practice. I’m making sure that I’m focused on the drills. Things like that.”

Morris believes that having two years of college experience will help to narrow the gap between being good and being great.

“I feel like in the instances where I might have been a half step short was really a lack of experience and a lack of understanding what it truly takes to be consistent in the Big Ten,” Morris said. “I feel like I’ve had some time to reflect on the season, and I’ve got some ideas going forward, and right now I’m just focused on trying to shorten that gap and trying to get rid of that half step.”

Losing games and having his performance scrutinized is all new to Morris.

But he knew that college wouldn’t be like his fairytale experience at Solon High School, where winning football games seemed almost as natural as breathing.

Morris led Solon to three consecutive Class 2A state titles as a hard-charging running back and linebacker.

He often was a man among boys on the playing field.

It makes for great memories. But that’s about it because the jump from playing high school football in Iowa to playing in the Big Ten is like going from starring in a local play to being on Broadway.

“Just the commitment level is totally different,” Morris said. “It is a different world. You really can’t even compare the two.”

The goal for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Morris is to be a more consistent playmaker. He was hobbled by an ankle injury last season but doesn’t use it as an excuse because nagging injuries go with the territory.

“Everybody is trying to be more consistent, myself especially,” Morris said. “You always have something to improve on. So if anything, why not have it be consistency?

“The people that can do it well play after play after play, just by the sure odds of it, they give themselves a higher chance of making big plays. If you’re hitting the right spot at the right time, it’s not a coincidence that the best players are always making the best plays because they’re in those positions to make plays more often than the other guys.”

Morris speaks like a veteran. His goal now is to play like one.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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