ACC Football: Salisbury's Morris opens some eyes in UNC spring game
By Ryan Bisesi
CHAPEL HILL — Salisbury lineage or not, no one was interrupting tailback Romar Morris, a state track champion, from taking the lead role in a day that reverberated across the North Carolina football program.
Safety Darien Rankin went low in effort to stop the fellow Hornet alum, but the “Zoomin’ Human” gave a pedestrian afternoon a jolt with the first of three touchdowns, shuffling away from Rankin and into the end zone. It was a rare moment when the two haven’t been on the same team.
Afterwards, they stood side-by-side in the interview room to talk to the media, just like the old days outside Ludwig Stadium. Their Salisbury connection has migrated about 100 miles east and remains strong.
Even though Saturday was Morris’ day to shine, this bond isn’t breaking anytime soon.
“He didn’t give me a hard time,” said Rankin of the missed tackle. “Deep down, I know he wanted to.”
Morris, who proved dangerous taking handoffs and catching passes, exploded for three second-quarter scores in seven minutes of the Blue-White spring football game Saturday. When Giovani Bernard went down with a gash on his head, Morris filled in and exceeded expectations. Bernard excited fans as a freshman last year and Morris looks to do the same this fall.
“Last year, I took it as a learning process,” said Morris, now listed at 180 pounds. “I got stronger in the weight room and this year I’m showing everybody what I have.”
With a little over 12 minutes left in the first half, Bryn Renner swung a pass in the flat to Morris, who used his elusiveness to find only Rankin separating him from the corner of the end zone. Morris evaded Rankin just enough to pile over the goal line for his first touchdown since his prep days.
“It was pretty cool,” Morris said. “Me and Darien have been competing all spring practice and it felt good to compete with him once again.”
It was only the spring game, sure, but it was all Morris needed to get acclimated with the speed of Division I football. After not stepping on the field last season, it was the introduction for most fans to Morris’ brand of speed. No need for Morris to take a bow since the first act is just beginning.
“The thing I really like about the kid is that he catches the ball really well,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said of Morris. “We’re going to be able to do some things with him out of the backfield.”
Morris caught three passes, two of them for touchdowns, for 35 yards. He ran nine times for 40 yards. The three scores turned a 7-6 White lead into a 27-7 edge for the Blue squad, who ended up winning 44-21. He would score on an 8-yard run later and a 21-yard pass before the half.
“He’s gotten better each practice,” Rankin said. “I’ve seen him progress from high school to now.”
Morris and Rankin reached the highest of highs their senior year, winning a state championship at Salisbury. They waited out last year on the sideline, both using a redshirt. After the entire coaching staff was replaced in the offseason, the duo kept their chin up and waited their turn.
“We weren’t used to being on the field,” Rankin said. “We picked each other up in the weight room and during training to get better.”
The two are suite mates, work out together and when they can, hang out together.
“We’re together 24/7 like always,” Rankin said. “It’s always going to be like that.”
Rankin, who was in the “Hornet” formation at Salisbury, is now 5-foot-11, 185 pounds. He registered a tackle Saturday.
“I need to pick it up on my tackling some,” Rankin said. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be as fast as (Morris).”
NOTES: The biggest smile in Kenan Stadium on Saturday probably belonged to Salisbury head football coach Joe Pinyan, who watched his former Hornets. … After Morris’ third touchdown, the press box announcer dubbed Morris “the spring game MVP.” … Kevin Best of UNC sports information office said A.L. Brown’s Travis Riley, who tore an ACL during pre-game warmups against Virginia Tech last season, is progressing…Brown’s Damien Washington will be a true freshman at UNC this fall.