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‘Bad decisions have consequences,’ former pro tells campers

By Joanie Morris
jmorris@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ó They lined up not so quietly along tables in the cafeteria at Northwest Cabarrus High School, anxious to see who the day’s speaker would be.
The boys, and one girl, were all at the school to attend the Wendy’s Summer Classic Baseball Camp, held by the Kannapolis Police Department.
Each day this week, they’ve gotten instruction on pitching, hitting, fielding and more from 10 of the best coaches in Rowan and Cabarrus counties.
The coaches come from the school systems, as well as Catawba and Phifer colleges.
Lt. Bret Johnson, who started the camp three years ago, said this is the largest group yet, and he hopes to continue growing the camp. The group this year numbered 130, 30 more than they allowed to attend last year. The camp is free for those attending, and the skills they learn go beyond the field.
Each day, the group walks up the road from the ballfield at Northwest Cabarrus to the cafeteria. They sit down and listen to a speaker. On Thursday, running a little late, the group got a little restless.
That is, until the speaker came in.
Former professional football player Mike Morton Jr., who was raised in Kannapolis, talked to the group about making the right choices. Morton played a majority of his football career at the Oakland Raiders, with stops along the way in St. Louis ó where he won a Superbowl ring ó Greenbay and Indianapolis.
At A.L. Brown High School, Morton won a state championship and continued on to play for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was captain of the team, as well as collected three college bowl rings there. After his NFL career, Morton went back to college at Carolina and got his degree to become a dentist. He and his wife, also a Kannapolis native, moved back to the city and have five children together.
“You think this man knows how to make the right choices?” said Johnson while introducing Morton. The baseball players chorused, “Yes.”
Morton asked the kids a series of questions about choices, and told them about the five best players he played with in high school.
“The first best player,” he said, pointing to a ball player wearing his Greenbay Packers jersey, “he was not me. He got locked up and put in jail. Did he make good choices?”
Then it was on to the second best player.
“He didn’t make good grades and failed out,” Morton said. “He wasn’t me either.”
The third best player also failed out, Morton said.
Morton said it was the fourth and fifth players that did well and went on to the state championship that year, and later played in college.
“You don’t do your homework and study, you won’t get to play either,” he told the group. “Bad decisions have consequences. Do the right things. Make the right choices, good things will happen for you.”
The young players all had questions for Morton, which he patiently answered. He also told the students that before the Raiders drafted him, a representative for the team pulled his criminal record and checked with his high school teachers about his academic performance and attitude in the classroom.
“They wanted guys that were not going to cause trouble,” said Morton. He even talked about using his brains in the NFL, describing the NFL defensive training book as about 800 pages, or “that thick,” spreading his fingers about three inches.
“And defense is where they put the dumb guys, just so you know,” he joked.
At the end of his speech, he had one more thought for the students.
“You are going to be asked (to do something bad),” Morton told the group. “You don’t have to be scared. Remember what we’ve told you. …
“If somebody asks you to do something wrong and they make fun of you for not doing it, … they don’t really count. Make fun of them.”
After his speech, the campers went back onto the field for more lessons in baseball but not before Johnson had one more thing to say to them.
He reminded them that Morton is just like them.
“He’s from here,” Johnson told the group. “He made the right choices. If this guy can make it, you can make it.”

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