Alfred Morris reward Florida Atlantic coaches who believed he could be a successful running back by breaking nearly every important FAU rushing record. (OwlAccess.com file photo)
Run with it
When recruiting Alfred Morris out of Pine Forest High School, most college coaches figured he'd be a linebacker. FAU told Morris he could carry the ball. He rewarded the coaches with an exceptional college career which culminated with Morris being selected by Washington in the sixth round of the NFL Draft.
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That running back Alfred Morris would one day be drafted by an NFL team was anything but certain when he signed with FAU in 2007.
Heck, the Owls' weren't 100 percent sure he'd even be a running back.
Morris played both sides of the ball at Pensacola-Pine Forest. The Owls were the only Division I school that thought he'd be a better running back than linebacker.
“I think we knew we were getting a special kid when we saw him in the (2006 Class 3A) State Championship game,” former FAU running backs coach Dave Serna said. “Not only was he playing both sides of the ball, but he was returning kicks.”
Morris carried the ball 11 times for 99 yards in that loss to Glades Central, scoring on a 65-yard run. He also recorded five tackles and returned two kickoffs for a total of 87 yards.
Serna thought the Owls were getting the player who would take over for fullback Willie Rose, but Morris' struggles catching balls as a freshman had FAU coaches talking about switching him to linebacker.
“Fortunately for us, he improved in that area,” Serna said. “He's a football player. I don't have any doubt that he could have played just about any position on the field and been a factor.”
Morris continued to develop as a fullback during his redshirt freshman season to the point that Serna told him prior to the start of the 2009 spring practices that he would receive some opportunities to carry the ball.
Injuries to Jeff Blanchard and Willie Floyd early that spring thrust Morris into the featured ball carrier roll. No one ever caught up to him.
Morris opened the 2009 season by rushing for 95 yards against Nebraska and 80 against South Carolina, then opened Sun Belt play with 122 yards and his first career touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe. At that point Serna understood Morris could be something special.
“That's when we knew we had to keep giving him the ball and try not to screw him up,” Serna said.
Morris ultimately rushed for more than 3,500 yards and 27 touchdowns as an Owl, breaking nearly every FAU rushing record.
Even after the outstanding college career, a slow 40-yard dash time left many wondering whether Morris could produce at the next level.
The measurables didn't concern the Washington Redskins' coaching staff. Serna said he received a call from Washington running backs coach Bobby Turner about a month ago - the major topic of conversation centered around Morris' off-the-field demeanor.
“The biggest thing they wanted to know was the intangibles. Is he going to be any trouble off the field?” Serna recalled.
If teams were drafting solely based on character, Morris would have been a first rounder. He also has the on-field experience to succeed. Washington drafted Morris in the sixth round on Saturday, a little more than three months after the Redskins' staff coached Morris in the Senior Bowl – a game in which he only played fullback.
Morris' ability to block was a huge plus, but the Redskins told Morris they drafted him as a ball-carrier.
“Based on the body of work and the style offense he played in, I think he has a better chance to be successful in the NFL than many others,” former FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said.
Now Morris plans to draw on his experience from the recruiting process and his early years at Florida Atlantic to help propel him to what many outside of FAU never foresaw five years ago – a lengthy NFL career.
“(FAU) saw something in me that others didn't and took a chance,” Morris said shortly after being selected by the Redskins. “All I need is an opportunity.”