Feb. 2, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The earliest commitment in University of Iowa football history also delivered one of the shortest acceptance speeches:
“Count me in. I’ll see you in three years,” Hawkeye freshman James Morris reportedly told head coach Kirk Ferentz in December, 2007. Morris, then a sophomore at Solon (Iowa) High School, had just returned from a wrestling tournament and committed to play at Iowa.
“That was probably one of the coolest days of my life,” Morris said.
Because of his early commitment and his closeness to the Iowa program, signing day in 2010 was somewhat anticlimactic for Morris, a three-sport prep standout. Morris’s father Greg is equipment manager for the Hawkeyes and with Solon just 15 miles from Kinnick Stadium, James made several visits to Iowa practice while leading the Spartans to three consecutive Class 2A state football championships.
“I was more anxious to get signing day over because it seemed like I was waiting forever,” Morris said. “It meant I was one step closer to being done with being a recruit. I was ready to get here and help the team.”
Instead of signing the National Letter of Intent at Solon High School, Morris and his family hosted his high school coaches for breakfast in his home, a gesture Morris said was well-received.
Since Morris pledged his allegiance so early to the Hawkeyes, few other Division I programs held out hope of landing him. Other than Iowa, only Stanford made a scholarship offer.
“I got letters from other places, but I never really took that stuff too seriously,” Morris said. “I was of the mind that if I’m committed somewhere, then I don’t want to play games with a place and its trust. I didn’t take any other official visits — my parents would have killed me.”
“If you asked me on signing day, I might have said that I would have loved to have gone to Palo Alto or I would have loved to have gone to Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee and spend two nights on someone else’s dollar. But once you’re here, where you want to be, that stuff doesn’t seem as important anymore.”
UI freshman linebacker
Morris was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Iowa as a junior and senior. As a three-time first-team all-state player, he helped Solon win 41 straight games while playing linebacker and running back. Despite seldom playing more than a half during his senior season, Morris ranks among the top six in Iowa for career rushing yards (6,646), touchdowns (113) and points scored (686). He was the prize of the state of Iowa’s 2010 recruiting class, but he never ventured outside the state’s borders to be pampered by other premier football programs.
“If you asked me on signing day, I might have said that I would have loved to have gone to Palo Alto or I would have loved to have gone to Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee and spend two nights on someone else’s dollar,” Morris said. “But once you’re here, where you want to be, that stuff doesn’t seem as important anymore.”
Morris was one of nine members of Iowa’s 2010 signing class to see action as true freshmen. He said he didn’t come to college expecting to play, but he expected an opportunity. He made the most of that opportunity and was named first team Freshman All-America by CollegeFootballNews.com, third team Freshman All-America by Phil Steele’s College Football and a member of the Big Ten Conference all-Freshman team by Rivals.com.
Morris played in all 13 games, starting six times at middle linebacker. He ranked fourth on the team with 70 tackles, including four pass breakups, 2 ½ tackles for loss and a sack of Northwestern’s Dan Persa, the first team all-Big Ten quarterback.
Now Morris wants to go from playing to playmaker and from starter to a star.
“Everybody has a role on the team, I’m just extremely ambitious on how I want to be a playmaker, I want to be a stud, I want to be a star,” Morris said. “I want to be making big plays and I guess I’m striving for more and I’m not satisfied. That motivates me. I feel I haven’t done anything yet that is up to my potential, so I feel there’s a lot more.”
For Morris, dissecting and understanding the X’s and O’s of college football was one of the biggest adjustments. He offered advice to the talented batch of incoming Hawkeye recruits: check your ego at the door of the Hayden Fry Football Complex.
“I don’t want to say I had a big head when I got here, but I was coddled emotionally in high school in the sense of being the star, you never really had to face the music,” Morris said. “Having to face the music and having to answer to not only my coaches or fans, but players on the team — guys that are four or five years older than me — that will put your ego in check really fast.”
With Morris playing a crucial role, the Hawkeyes won seven of their first nine games and capped the eight-win season with a 27-24 victory over No. 12 Missouri in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28. Against the Tigers, Morris compiled seven tackles (five solo) with a tackle for loss. He has not had time to do an in-depth analysis of his first collegiate season.
“It was weird,” Morris said. “Maybe it will seem magical when I’m 40, but it went so fast because you get in such a routine. When I take a step back and see how much I got to play and how much of an impact I had relative to other freshmen on the team and other freshmen in the conference — it’s pretty special and it’s a building point, not a climax.”
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