The weekends were the worst. When his fellow Arizona Wildcats would board the bus for the airport or team hotel, all Sammy Morrison could do was watch them leave.
The second-year cornerback was injured, and it had been determined that he would redshirt. His teammates got to play. Morrison couldn’t. It wasn’t easy.
“To experience something and have it taken away, that’s tough at times,” Morrison said after a recent UA spring practice. “You’re not really doing much with the team.”
After playing in 12 games as a true freshman in 2015, Morrison endured what he described as an “interesting, unpredictable ordeal” last year. About halfway through spring practice, he injured his right knee, partially tearing the ACL and straining the MCL and PCL. He recovered in time for training camp in August — but suffered a torn left hamstring on the first day of practice.
In the immediate aftermath, Morrison said he felt “depressed.”
It isn’t an uncommon experience for athletes, football players in particular, when the activity that has become their identity is removed from their daily routine, even if only temporarily.
“I was sad. I was hurt. I was distraught,” Morrison said. “You work so hard to get back on the field. Especially with a new coach (Arizona changed its entire defensive staff last year), if you’re not making plays, you’re not going to play.
“I felt like I lost my chance. I felt kind of alone.”
He wasn’t. Morrison’s buddies had his back. Fellow defensive backs Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Isaiah Hayes, Malcolm Holland and Kwesi Mashack, among others, went out of their way to prop Morrison up when he was down. He gained a whole new appreciation for his football family.
“We kept his spirits up,” Hayes said. “We hung out with him. We just stayed around him, bringing positive energy toward him. Let him know it’s all part of God’s plan. Let him know it’s all part of the process and the script, that he’s going to come back even better than he was when he left.”
Morrison initially resisted the idea of redshirting. But after talking to his father and then-cornerbacks coach Donté Williams, Morrison got on board.
Williams advised him to use his redshirt year to get bigger and stronger. Morrison, who’s listed at 5 feet 9 inches, said he played at about 160 pounds as a freshman. He’s now about 180.
“It was honestly a blessing in disguise,” Morrison said.
With more weight, strength and knowledge, Morrison should be better equipped to handle the rigors of college football and push projected starters Dane Cruikshank and Jace Whittaker for playing time. UA coach Rich Rodriguez provided some evidence earlier this week, describing how Morrison bounced back from a “big collision” with running back Nick Wilson during practice Monday.
“I told Sammy, in his younger days, he probably would have been seeing the trainers right now,” Rodriguez said. “The year being injured, he did a good job … in the weight room. That’s what he needed to do. If he can stay healthy, which I think he will, he’ll play a big role for us.”
Morrison is just glad to be playing again, regardless of his role. As he knows all too well, football can be taken away in an instant.
“People weren’t sure if I was ever going to play again,” Morrison said. “I lost my spot. I fell off the map.
“The one thing I love about this team is that they believed in me. They didn’t give up on me at all. That’s why I’m so happy I’m back now with my team. I owe it to them.”
After practicing in shorts Wednesday, the Wildcats will go in full pads with “live” periods during Thursday night’s open-to-the-public Spring Showcase.
Rodriguez said he wants his quarterbacks to execute and anticipate during the scrimmage. He wants the team as a whole to have fun after having “sand kicked in our face” last season.
Rodriguez said the defense will be “tagging off” with some of the quarterbacks (presumably Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate) and players who have been banged up. It’s a pretty safe bet that tailbacks J.J. Taylor and Wilson won’t be tackled.
The showcase is free and begins at 6 p.m. at Arizona Stadium.
- Rodriguez said the offense has been “pretty sharp” mentally and schematically so far. He credited the experience level of the offensive line and running backs, as well as the quarterbacks pushing the tempo.
- Rodriguez said new defensive tackle Sione Taufahema is a “great kid” with a lot of natural strength, but he needs to get in better shape. The junior-college transfer is listed at 6-1, 330.
- Rodriguez said incoming kicker Lucas Havrisik will compete immediately with incumbent Josh Pollack. Rodriguez believes having legitimate competition there will benefit Pollack. Rodriguez also made it sound as if he’ll hire a special-teams coach sooner than later.
- Safeties coach Jahmile Addae said Flannigan-Fowles has the potential to be a “really special player.” He was second on the team with 81 tackles last season, including four for losses. Despite those numbers, Flannigan-Fowles described his performance as “average” in 2016 because Arizona had a “sorry season.”
- Hayes said he’s been putting in extra time in the weight room to bulk up — he’s up to about 190 pounds. He played at about 180 as a freshman in 2016 after reporting at 160 when he enrolled.