Hawkeyes’ Morris ready to lead linebackers

BY SETH ROBERTS | JULY 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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In a few short weeks, Iowa football fans will get to watch linebacker James Morris zipping around the field in Kinnick Stadium.

And if those same fans wait long enough, they might get to see the Solon native somewhere completely different — on a grocery store shelf.

“He’s a Wheaties box kind of guy,” Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker said in April. “He’s sort of the All-American boy. He works hard, he studies hard, [and] he just does everything right.”

Morris looked the part when he met the press last week, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Iowa Strength” and with his dark hair swept to one side.

The 19-year-old is young, but he is the centerpiece of a defense that has plenty to prove after a tumultuous season last year. Injuries to the linebacking corps forced Morris into a starting role midway through the 2010 campaign, and the lifelong Iowa fan stepped up to become one of the few bright spots on a unit that crumbled late in games on several occasions.

He didn’t show any jitters in his first start, collecting nine tackles in a a 37-6 blowout win over No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 30. That was the first of six-straight starts, including the Insight Bowl, in which he tallied at least seven tackles per game — including a career-high 13 against Northwestern on Nov. 13 and nine on Nov. 20, his 19th birthday.

Morris finished the season with 70 tackles, the fourth-best number on the team. For his efforts, he was named a first team Freshman All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com and a member of Rivals.com’s Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

He said he isn’t satisfied with resting on his impressive freshman season, though, and he believes that the team’s off-season has brought a new perspective to the game.

“Things have changed a lot … there are all the things outside of football, [and] as far as football-wise, I’m just a lot more comfortable with myself and the teams,” he said on June 28. “It’s that thing where, when you’re a freshman, you’re not really sure if you’re good enough, all those little insecurities. By the time this year [comes around], you’ve survived, and you’re like, ‘You know what? I can play here.’

“I’d say I agree with those feelings. I feel pretty confident going into this season.”

That confidence hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches jand teammates. Parker said Morris’ maturity is most evident off the field, especially in the film room.

“He studies [film], and he does that stuff like you’d expect an older guy would do it,” Parker said. “He approaches the game like you’d expect a junior or senior to approach the game. He’s very professional in what he’s doing and how he approaches it and everything. He’s a kid who, if you had a whole bunch of those guys, it would be an easy situation.”

Senior linebacker Tyler Nielson, whose injuries last year helped pave the way for Morris to become a star, said he doesn’t think his young teammate has nearly reached his potential on the field.

“We gained a lot of experience [last year],” Nielson said in April. “Morris is looking good … It’s always competitive, and it’s just going to be exciting watching the younger guys come along. They came a long way in the spring, and I think they’re going to do the same thing again in the fall.”

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