If you ever question why the University of Toledo seems more than willing to play football games on just about any night of the week to accommodate national television, here s a partial answer:
Now a sophomore cornerback at UT, Morris scored his third defensive touchdown in 14 career games last Thursday, a 37-yard fumble return that helped the Rockets pour it on in a 62-14 victory over Western Illinois.
Morris is from Nyack, N.Y., a charming village on the Hudson River just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge, and his high school statistics dictated that he should have been recruited by any of the big eastern schools Syracuse, Boston College, Penn State, Maryland among others who like to consider the New York City area to be their own.
But those offers never came and, when Morris weighed his options, he thought back to a night in front of the TV during his junior year of high school.
Toledo played on ESPN and I never forgot watching that game, Morris said yesterday.
He saw the wide-open offense, the bright lights of the Glass Bowl, the packed stands and, just maybe, he sensed an opportunity on defense.
I sent the coaches a tape and they came to see me, Morris said.
The Rocket coaches would have been silly not to have liked what they saw.
Consider this: During three years as a starter at Nyack High School, while leading his team to a 32-2 record, Morris had 31 interceptions. As a senior, he returned four of his 13 picks for touchdowns, earned all-state honors for the third time, and was named by the state s sports writers association as the Class A player of the year.
Did the Rockets steal a star?
I d say we did, UT coach Tom Amstutz said. He played at a smaller school, a suburban-type school, and he may have been overlooked.
But he certainly stood out on the field. We watched the film he sent and it didn t take long to recognize a playmaker.
The old football saying is that defensive playmakers have a nose for the ball.
That being the case, you d expect Morris to have a nose like Pinocchio after three or four fibs and a couple downright lies.
Fact is, his nose is as normal as the statistics are abnormal.
Morris had three interceptions last season as a redshirt freshman at UT and was named to the Freshman All-American team by the Sporting News. He returned one of those thefts 88 yards for a touchdown against Temple and had a 26-yard fumble return for a score against Ohio. He led the Rockets, and ranked third in the Mid-American Conference, in pass break-ups with 10 and was fifth on the team with 76 tackles.
A nose for the ball, indeed.
I guess I m always in the right place at the right time, Morris said.
But how? Why? Is it anticipation, reaction, instinct, speed?
A little bit of everything, he said. It s being where you re supposed to be and knowing what you re supposed to do.
Morris himself is a little bit of everything. He has the quickness of someone who lettered four times for his high school track team, the leaping ability of a three-year letter-winner in basketball.
He does it all with one of the smallest frames 6-foot, 174 pounds on the Rockets roster.
I don t think there s anybody who s more alert on the field, Amstutz said. He has great quickness and he s always looking to make a play.
I think if you have a great break to the ball and you re always there on every play, then you re going to be in better position to make plays. That s Nigel.
Morris feels the UT defense made a strong statement with six takeaways in the win over Western Illinois.
But it will be a different Western Michigan and a higher level of play this Saturday at the Glass Bowl.
It was a great first step, Morris said of the win over WIU. I think our defense got better and started getting more respect as last season went on. Now, we ve started big. But we can always get better. We have to always get better.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.