Hawkeye fans will see more of Morris

Oct. 15, 2010

ANN ARBOR, Mich.– James Morris knows every freshman football player comes to college optimistic about immediate playing time. But even the rookie from nearby Solon, Iowa, was surprised to be involved with so many snaps during the University of Iowa’s 24-3 Big Ten Conference-opening victory against Penn State on Oct. 9.

“When the rubber hits the road guys have reservations and I was certainly nervous,” Morris said. “I wasn’t expecting to play half a game, but it ended up being a pretty cool experience and hopefully one I can build off of.”

Morris had his name called at middle linebacker after seniors Troy Johnson and Jeff Tarpinian went down with injuries. He responded with seven tackles and a pass breakup.

“I felt maybe my best play was when they ran a shovel pass (to running back Evan Royster) in the fourth quarter and I got off a couple blocks and made the stop at the line of scrimmage,” Morris said. “That was a pretty good feeling.”

Morris is listed as Johnson’s backup for Saturday’s game at No. 24 Michigan. He has 10 tackles through the first five games for the 14th-rated Hawkeyes (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten). Against the Nittany Lions he made many of the calls in the defensive huddle.

“That was an unexpected situation. It was one of those things where they throw you to the wolves and the seniors on the team were great, and everyone helped me get comfortable. I was able to make most of the right checks to get our guys lined up so we could make plays.”
UI freshman linebacker
James Morris

“That was an unexpected situation,” Morris said. “It was one of those things where they throw you to the wolves and the seniors on the team were great, and everyone helped me get comfortable. I was able to make most of the right checks to get our guys lined up so we could make plays.”

UI head coach Kirk Ferentz acknowledged the Hawkeyes’ brittle situation at middle linebacker at his weekly media conference, but was pleased with the play of Morris.

James Morris stepped in and did a great job,” Ferentz said. “We’re at that point of the season where you’re going to have some other guys step in and get it done.”

Most boys growing up in eastern Iowa dream of playing for the Hawkeyes and Morris is no exception. But he had another connection to the program — his stepfather Greg is equipment manager for the team. As Morris matured as a player, he kept a keen eye on Hawkeye linebackers Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Fred Barr and Grant Steen.

“After that I watched (Mike) Klinkenborg and (Mike) Humpal,” Morris said. “Pretty-much from the 2001 season on is when I really got into Iowa football. The reason those players were successful is because they did what the coaches told them, so I’m going to do what the coaches tell me and hopefully that will result in me being successful and playing at a similar level like they did.”

It didn’t take Iowa football long to “get into” Morris. A two-way star at running back and linebacker in high school, Morris rushed for more than 6,600 yards including a senior season where he compiled 2,247 yards on the ground and 40 touchdowns, despite sitting out most second halves of games because of a lopsided score. At Iowa, defense and special teams are his primary focus.

“I have so much to worry about with defense that the days of playing offense are kind of an afterthought,” Morris said. “I do get a little jealous when I see Adam (Robinson) making all those big runs, but sometimes you have to let that dream die.”

Morris is now part of a defense that ranks first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring (10.2 points per game), second in rushing defense (63.2 yards per game) and fourth in total defense (242.2 yards per game). The Hawkeyes will be tested by a Michigan offense that leads the Big Ten in total offense (533.7) and rushing offense (297.3).

“Our goals are to win every game on our schedule from here on out and I don’t think anybody will mince words about that,” Morris said. “My personal goal is to improve as much as I can every day and when my number is called again, be ready to help the defense succeed.”

During high school, Morris and his teammates rolled to 41 straight wins and three consecutive Class 2A state championships. He wore jersey No. 28 when he was twice named Gatorade Player of the Year, but upon arrival at the UI, that number was already occupied by starting cornerback Shaun Prater. Morris received 44, the same number once worn by Dallas Clark and Humpal.

“I didn’t have a preference and I took what they gave me,” Morris said. “Forty-four is a pretty awesome number; there have been some good players that have worn it the last couple years.”

A National Honor Society member with a 3.95 grade-point average at Solon, Morris has not identified an academic major, but he is interested in political science or pre-law.

Saturday will mark his second road trip as a Hawkeye, this time playing before more than 110,000 fans. It will undoubtedly be a stark contrast to coming out of the tunnel at Kinnick Stadium, a memory that will stick with Morris forever.

“All of us freshmen were in the back of the swarm, the crowd was going crazy and it was pretty overwhelming,” he said. “That feeling, looking up and seeing the crowd and everyone screaming; you could literally feel the stadium shaking and it was an awesome experience.”