Southern athlete moves from defense to offense
There are few places the Southern football team needs help more than wide receiver.
Preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection Lee Doss is the league’s reigning receptions leader, but no other wideout on the Southern roster had double-digit catches last year.
That explains why sophomore Justin Morgan has returned to the offensive side of the ball after spending his freshman season playing defensive back.
“It’s a lot of kids’ dream just to come here and play for a school like this,” Morgan said. “If I get my chance to play, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Listed as an “athlete” when he signed with Southern two years ago, Morgan played quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back at Pell City High School in Alabama.
After playing in just three games with one tackle as a freshman, Morgan seems to have found a home.
He has the kind of speed that can stretch defenses on the outside.
Besides, with Southern transitioning to a more pass-friendly attack that could often include three-receiver sets, the move to receiver gives Morgan a better chance to make his presence felt.
“He’s really swift, just an all-around athlete,” junior defensive back Jaleel Richardson said. “It’s going to be nice to see him on the field.”
Charles Hawkins and Mike Berry are both gone after combining for 69 catches as seniors last year.
Morgan is battling a long list of unproven but talented receivers — Jordan Bilbo, Sam Altman, Thomas Jackson and Willie Quinn, to name a few — for a starting job.
“He has great athletic ability,” coach Dawson Odums said. “I think he’ll be one of those receivers who could step up and maybe replace the void of some of those guys we lost last year.”
Morgan hopes to help Southern reach the SWAC title game in Houston, but there’s another date on the schedule that has special meaning to him.
Nov. 9, the Jaguars travel to face Alabama State, the school about 100 miles from Morgan’s hometown where both his brother and sister earned degrees.
But the Southern receiver could only smile and laugh when asked if the Hornets recruited him.
“I can’t do it,” he said, preferring to plead the Fifth. “Everybody in my family went to Alabama State.”
Morgan’s road to Southern began when former coach Stump Mitchell found his high school highlight video on YouTube. A recruiting trip to Baton Rouge came a few weeks later.
“I felt the love from this school more than any of the other ones,” Morgan said. “I felt like I wanted to go somewhere I was wanted rather than just be another number.”
If he catches on as a wide receiver, Morgan could make the Jaguars look very wise.
Southern will have its first of five two-a-day sessions Tuesday beginning with a 9 a.m. workout. The evening workout is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
Monday’s practice — the first for the Jaguars in full pads — included a brief situational scrimmage at the end.
“Just working on situations, down and distance,” Odums said. “Just getting them in the tempo of moving the football and understanding it’s not always going to be in the same spot. Trying to get your personnel right, your formations right and get guys on and off the field.”
Senior fullback Brian McCain, a returning starter, missed practice Monday with what Odums described as a foot injury.
“I’m just waiting to hear from the doctor,” Odums said. “We want to make sure we’re taking care of him and make sure he’s going to be all right.”
Many players arrived on the practice field Thursday sporting shaven heads, a sign of unity as the team began 17 consecutive days of practicing football.
Odums was asked if the players were simply mimicking the look of their coach.
“They’re going to have to do more than cut their hair off,” Odums joked. “It’s hard to get this handsome.”
Senior defensive end Kadeem Lewis, one of the players who shaved their heads, said it remains to be seen whether the Jaguars keep their heads bald through the season.
“After camp, I might keep it or I might not,” he said. “I haven’t made up my mind.”