College Football: Catawba notebook

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Catawba football notebook…
National signing day in February, 2008, included the exciting news that West Iredell running back Bobby Morrison Jr. had signed with Catawba.
Morrison had been named Offensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl two months earlier, so he’d been expected to go much bigger, but West Iredell grad and Catawba recruiting coordinator D.J. Summers talked a big fish into swimming in a small pond.
“I’m a homebody,” Morrison explained at Tuesday’s press conference at Ryan’s. “I wanted to stay close to home where I could fish and hunt on the weekends.”
He was penciled in as a sure-fire Hall of Famer before his first carry, but health is a fragile thing, even with someone built like the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Morrison.
In preseason camp his freshman year, Morrison broke a foot. That made it an easy decision to redshirt him.
He recovered from the foot injury just in time to tear an ACL in spring ball, and that’s when Morrison nearly dropped off the radar.
“It’s a long work in progress to come back from an ACL,” Morrison said. “And I was behind great backs. Jamelle Cuthbertson when I first came here, and then Josh Wright.”
Morrison’s first brief appearances on the field didn’t come until 2010, and he appeared to be a shadow of the phenom he’d been in high school.
“I just kept working and praying,” Morrison said. “Praying that God would help me help my team.”
In 2011, he finally was healthy enough to play in 10 games, rush for 146 yards and find the end zone twice. But 146 yards was just a good half for him in high school. He’d rushed for almost 3,300 yards in two sensational seasons at West Iredell while scoring 45 touchdowns.
Morrison entered this season as Catawba’s first-string back for the first time, but his production through three games didn’t cause any dancing in the streets. He averaged 40 yards per game, as Catawba’s ground game stumbled and struggled.
But Saturday’s 14-6, lightning-interrupted win against Tusculum may have marked a turning point for Morrison, now a senior, and his offensive line.
With quarterback B.J. Sherrill hobbled by a sprained foot, the Indians weren’t going to win a shootout with high-octane Tusculum, so the gameplan was to pound on the ground, control the ball and keep the defense off the field.
“I told myself that I hadn’t been doing enough, hadn’t been running hard enough and hadn’t been breaking enough tackles,” Morrison said.
Morrison became the leading man in the unusual drama that unfolded at Shuford Stadium on Saturday night. Catawba had the ball twice as long as Tusculum, 40 minutes to 20. Tusculum threw 58 passes. Catawba put it in the air 11 times.
Morrison carried 24 times for 158 yards, and Catawba moved the chains 13 times on rushes.
“The offensive line opened big holes, and I was determined to run as hard as I could,” Morrison said. “What was pretty cool was looking over at our sideline and watching the confidence building. Usually when it’s third down, you can see the special-teams guys getting ready. This time, I looked over there and they were just standing there relaxed, knowing we were going to make another first down.”
The defense, which figured to be fighting for survival against Tusculum, rested for long periods and was able to limit the Pioneers to two field goals.
“Our offense ran the ball so well that we stayed fresh and stayed energized,” defensive lineman Gabe Evans said. “We were able to contain Tusculum’s offense.”
Catawba coach Chip Hester was thrilled to see the Indians execute consistenly in the running game, cutting out the penalties and mistakes that have been plaguing them in past games. Second-and-5 is a wonderful place to be compared to second-and-9.
“We knew we had to be physical, and Bobby Morrison was an extremely important part of establishing that mentality,” Hester said. “He ran hard and he ran physical. Every time he ran the ball, he was delivering the blow.”
Morrison has paid his dues as much as anyone in the program. Maybe it’s finally his time to be rewarded.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” he said with a smile. “Now we know we can run the ball. We just have to line up and do it consistently.”•AWARDS: Morrison was an obvious choice as Offensive Player of the Week. Evans (three tackles) was named by the coaches as the top performer on a defensive unit that held Tusculum 200 yards under its season average.•SPECIAL TEAMS TIGER: Cody Crowell was named Special Teams Player of the Week for his work on kickoff coverage.
Crowell, 5-10, 200, isn’t big enough for linebacker, but he’s a perfect special teams guy. He contributed as a true freshman last season and was in on 10 tackles.
“That was unexpected because most guys coming into a college program redshirt,” Crowell said. “But I pride myself on loving contact – I just have no problem with it. I’m always one of the fastest guys on the field, so I’m one of the first to get down there and I’m going 100 miles an hour.”
Crowell missed the first two games with illness but is expected to be a fixture on special teams going forward.
Catawba’s “Special Forces” have been a plus so far. Todd McComb and John Fitz are the special teams coaches.
“We’ve already won games because of our special forces,” Hester said. “Crowell has been a big part of that. He’s good at playing in space and he knows how to tackle.”•ROUNDUP: Hester said running back Wade Moore is no longer with the team. Moore is still in school. … A special visitor on Tuesday was Earl Smith, Hester’s high school coach at Raleigh Millbrook. … Hester was pleased with the work of offensive tackle Tim Buck. “Run-blocking is his strength,” Hester said. Buck has stepped into the lineup for injured Corey Raven. … Morrison is third in the SAC in rushing (279 yards). Sherrill is fifth in TD passes with seven. Nate Charest ranks fifth with 258 receiving yards. … Catawba (3-1) plays at UNC Pembroke (3-1) at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Cadarreus Mason (South Rowan) starts at middle linebacker for UNCP and is second in tackles. Ben DeCelle (East Rowan) and T.J. Johnson (A.L. Brown) have combined for 22 receptions for the Braves. Jonathan Efird (A.L. Brown) is the backup QB.