“Most people say that when you’re undersized, that you don’t have the height, that you’re probably not going to make it in college. So when I got the phone call from coach (Stump) Mitchell, I felt like this was my one opportunity, and I was going to make the best of it.” JUSTIN MORGAN, Southern wide receiver
There’s no shortage of versatile athletes on the Southern football roster. But even with all-conference players such as Lee Doss and Virgil Williams, and blossoming newcomers Lenard Tillery and Willie Quinn, wide receiver Justin Morgan may be the most complete athlete on the team.
Morgan — a sophomore from Pell City, Ala., 30 miles outside of Birmingham — came to The Bluff two years ago as a talented high school quarterback, center fielder and pitcher, where he batted .370 his senior season to go with 26 stolen bases.
“I was recruited as a quarterback, but I came in as an athlete,” Morgan said. “I ended up playing defensive back last season. And then heading into this season, I ended up at receiver; and against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (a 29-21 Southern win Saturday), I played some running back.”
Morgan even to quarterback when the Jaguars attempted a fake field goal.
He was on the receiving end of two Dray Joseph pass attempts. He attempted a pass of his own. He had one rushing attempt.
“Justin Morgan is just a fantastic athlete,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “Anytime he gets his hands on the football, he is capable of taking it the distance.”
Coming from a state that’s home to two Southwestern Athletic Conference rivals, Alabama State and Alabama A&M, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Morgan chose one of them as favorite.
Morgan recalled a pivotal game he attended as an adolescent — the 2004 SWAC Championship Game at Legion Field in Birmingham, between his current school, Southern, and the team he pulled for, Alabama State.
The Hornets won 40-35. The Jaguars haven’t been back to the title game since then, although they’re closing in on a Western Division title and a long-awaited shot at the championship.
“I had no idea who Southern was. All I knew about was Alabama State,” Morgan said, recalling the ’04 title game. “I had no choice but to be an Alabama State fan growing up. Everyone in my family pulls for them.”
Morgan’s family hasn’t let him forget that.
“They always talk to me about it,” Morgan said. “I get calls from my brother about Alabama State all the time.”
Despite Morgan’s family allegiance, his parents haven’t missed a Southern football game since he came to Baton Rouge last year.
They’ve seen him move from quarterback to defensive back to wide receiver.
“My family comes to every game, all the road games and everything,” Morgan said.
Morgan said he relishes the challenges he’s encountered as wide receiver. It’s a different spot with different things to learn, and he’s starting to pick it all up.
“I get to use my speed as a wide receiver, being able to run past a guy,” Morgan said. “Everyone always says that if a defensive back can lock you down, then you shouldn’t be playing wide receiver. But I feel like that I have the speed to blow past defenders.
“I like to get out in the open on the field and see if they can catch me, but I enjoy just being able to move around from various positions and helping my team win.”
And he’s glad to be a part of the team. Thankful, in fact.
Morgan (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) appreciates the opportunity that former Southern coach Stump Mitchell gave him out of high school three years ago by offering him a full athletic scholarship.
“Most people say that when you’re undersized, that you don’t have the height, that you’re probably not going to make it in college,” Morgan said. “So when I got the phone call from coach Mitchell, I felt like this was my one opportunity, and I was going to make the best of it.”