By Mike London
BURLINGTON — Jarvis Morgan, the West Rowan receiver who caught a long touchdown pass in the 2010 3A state championship game against Eastern Alamance, now works and coaches at Eastern Alamance.
Morgan made that 68-yard TD reception from quarterback B.J. Sherrill to put the Falcons ahead 12-0. Sherrill exited shortly after that successful throw with a concussion.
Morgan grins at the irony of it all. Life definitely takes some crazy turns.
“The funny thing is the people here are still excited about being in those championship games against West Rowan and they bring it up all the time to me,” Morgan said with a laugh. “They’ve got pictures on the walls of those games. I don’t have to remind them about it. I just nod and smile, mostly.”
John Kirby is in his 36th year of teaching math and coaching football at Eastern Alamance. He led the strong teams that lost to the Falcons. The first meeting in 2009 was 28-21. The rematch in 2010 was 34-7.
Kirby is now Morgan’s mentor, showing him the ropes, demonstrating how he can combine teaching and coaching to make a difference for a lot of people.
“If (West Rowan coach) Scott Young was still alive, maybe I’d be at West Rowan right now and learning from him, and that’s something I think about every single day,” Morgan said. “But Coach Kirby has taken me under his wing. I’ve gotten my jobs here in Alamance County because he’s always been there to put in a good word for me.”
The 26-year-old Morgan worked at a middle school in Alamance last year. When the opportunity to move over to the high school came over the summer, he jumped at it. He’s well-qualified to help with the basketball program as well as with the football receivers.
He’s an EC teacher in an inclusion classroom. That means students with disabilities or special needs are taught alongside standard students. He works with them on math skills.
“Yes, it’s true that you have to have patience and understanding,” Morgan said. “But my experience with being an EC teacher is those kids will actually work harder than the other kids. They’re the ones who have something to prove.”
Growing up, Morgan was certain he had a future in basketball. That was his sport. His most obvious athletic trait was sensational jumping ability. In high school, he had a vertical jump of 35 inches.
“I ‘d never played football at all, but then when I was going to be a freshman at West Rowan, the friends I played basketball with, Maurice Warren and Dinkin Miller, started going to football practice and I was left out. I got bored and I talked my dad into letting me play football.”
After a couple of days of practice, they made him a quarterback.
But in the first jayvee game against Davie County, he caught a touchdown pass. That led to a position switch.
“That was 2008,” Morgan said. “I was almost 6-foot-3, but I could see I didn’t have the handles to be an NBA guard. I’d seen Russell Westbrook, who was the same height as me. I’d also seen what (future West teammate) Keshun Sherrill could do with a basketball, and I knew he could do things that I couldn’t. I started to see football might be my ticket. And I loved playing football for Scott Young. He became a second father.”
Morgan was called up for his first taste of varsity football action in the playoffs as a freshman. So he got to be part of the first of West’s three state-title marches.
As a sophomore in 2009, Morgan was frequently on the field for the varsity, but B.J. Sherrill had more experienced targets — Jon Crucitti, Kajuan Phillips and tight end Patrick Hampton.
“I know my numbers weren’t much to look at, but I learned a lot that year about being unselfish and focusing on winning,” Morgan said. “We had K.P. Parks running the ball, so we usually didn’t have to throw in the second half.”
As a junior, Morgan caught four touchdown passes, including that big play in the state-title game, but he still didn’t have a huge statistical season.
“That team was good enough that it was usually all over with by halftime,” Morgan said. “You don’t throw when it’s 40-0. The receivers used to joke that we’d better get our catches early.”
But then everything changed. Parks’ last football season was 2009. Sherrill, the starting quarterback for 46 straight wins, finished his West football career in the fall of 2010.
“Going into my senior season in 2011, there were doubters all over the place,” Morgan said. “We didn’t know who the quarterback was going to be. The summer before that season I believe we went 0-and-11 in our 7-on-7 scrimmages. “
But that team would finish 13-3. There was an opening-night loss to Mooresville that ended the 46-game winning streak. The only other setbacks were to South Carolina power South Pointe and to Havelock in the state championship game.
With Zay Laster doing most of the throwing, Morgan enjoyed a phenomenal senior season with 48 catches for 1,105 yards and 13 touchdown catches. There were big plays — an 82-yard catch and another for 71 yards.
He also had a score on a 40-yard run and another TD on a Salisbury onside kick.
There have been only 13 1,000-yard receiving seasons in Rowan County history, and Morgan had one of them.
The breakout for him was 180 receiving yards against Davie in Week 2.
Against East Rowan, Morgan matched the school record with four receiving TDs and 146 yards.
“I remember a couple of things about the East game,” Morgan said. “East’s Dock Corpening and I were talking smack to each other during the jayvee game. He asked me how many touchdowns did I plan to score on Friday and I knew what the school record was, so I told him five. He laughed. But I almost did get five. I had the post for the fifth one, but I tripped.”
He’s proud that he was in uniform for all three of West’s state titles as well as the runner-up team. Only a handful of players can say that.
“But that loss to Havelock hurt me badly,” Morgan said. “We’d won championships in Winston-Salem in Raleigh and we all wanted to get one in Chapel Hill.”
As far as high school basketball, Morgan was reasonably successful. He was an all-county performer and averaged double figures as a junior and senior. He brought more raw athleticism to the court than skill. He was a stick-backs, fastbreaks and dunks guy, for the most part.
He played his last two seasons for teams that went 35-23 and won 19 of 24 league games. Most of those league losses were to Statesville, which usually had multiple guys who were Morgan clones.
“I had fun playing basketball for West with guys like Keshun Sherrill, B.J. Sherrill and Domonique Noble,” Morgan said. “Playing for Coach (Mike) Gurley was good for me. He’s a system guy and he’d yell a lot, but I learned to fit into his system. I brought dunks. I brought excitement to the gym. Looking back on it, I appreciate Gurley a whole lot more now. There was a lot of tough love from him, but he made me tougher and I would need that toughness to get through some of the adversity I ran into after high school. Now that was a journey.”
Morgan’s chances to play at the next level were in football. Charlotte was just getting its program started and wanted him, but he signed with Winston-Salem State.
“I still don’t think I was over losing that last high school football game and that took a toll on me to some extent,” Morgan said. “Then that first year at Winston-Salem State was very tough. I was redshirted. There were too many guys and there weren’t enough shoulder pads to go around, so I didn’t even get to practice. But I stuck it out. Then I had a really good spring game and projected to be a starter as a redshirt freshman.”
That didn’t happen. There was a severe hamstring injury. He tried to come back after three or four games, and it was too soon. He ran a post route, reinjured the hamstring and was done for the season. His only two catches that season came in a personal homecoming for him at Livingstone.
When the Winston-Salem staff, led by Coach Conell Maynor, moved on to Hampton, Morgan was ready for a change of scenery.
So he transferred to Charlotte and started classes there for the spring semester of 2014. He’d grown to 6-foot-4, 190 pounds by then and passed the eye test for a D-I receiver.
But the setbacks continued.
He never broke into the lineup at Charlotte.
Then he was out of school for a while, but he kept training and transferred to Gardner-Webb.
“It looked like I could be in a starting role there, but then I was ruled ineligible,” Morgan said. “I was one class short. I didn’t know about it.”
Football opportunities evaporating at Winston-Salem State, Charlotte and Gardner-Webb, that was three strikes, and Morgan was out. That was a low point in Morgan’s life.
“It beat me up mentally and I didn’t know what to do next,” Morgan said. “I felt terrible, felt like I’d let people down, like I’d let everyone who believed in me at West Rowan down.”
He’d been away from sports, working for 18 months, when he ran into John Knox, the former Salisbury quarterback who had battled against Morgan in football and basketball. Knox was playing football overseas. Knox convinced Morgan to go back to school, to get a degree and start preparing for life after his playing days.
That’s when Morgan returned to Winston-Salem State. He planned to give football one last try for the Rams, but he tore an ACL playing intramural basketball.
“ACLs are hit and miss, and I had a really bad tear,” Morgan said. “I never got all my speed back.”
He was on the team his last year, but he realized his window as a meaningful player had closed. He supported his teammates, gave tips to his teammates.
“I took mental reps every day, and it was sort of like I was already coaching,” Morgan said. “I did everything I could to help the guys playing ahead of me. It’s not like I wanted them to fail, just so I’d get a chance. I was never that guy.”
Morgan is still single, but he is proud of his nieces and nephews. There’s Tyler Partee, Ledford’s outstanding golfer/basketball player and Salisbury’s Christian Morgan, the track star, and Mary Morgan, the basketball player.
Morgan got his degree, and now he’s using it. He’s also working on a masters at WSSU. That could help open the door for him to be a head coach down the road.
He has Kirby to mentor him.
The school that he once helped defeat on the biggest high school stage has embraced him.
The first Alamance cities you think of are Burlington and Graham, but the Eastern Alamance community is Mebane, with a population of about 15,000.
Morgan lives in Burlington, but he can drive to work in 15 minutes.
“Mebane is a close community that loves football more than anything,” Morgan said. “This is a great place for me to be right now. I take those lessons from Coach Young and Coach Gurley to work with me every single day.”