LB Morris settling in as a sophomore


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James Morris’ head is still spinning.

It started when injury after injury devastated the Hawkeyes’ linebacking corps until he was “the only guy left.” At least, that’s the sideline conversation he recalled between linebacker coach Darrell Wilson and head coach Kirk Ferentz during last year’s win over Penn State.

The only guy left — then a 6-2, 215-pound freshman from Solon — performed well. Morris collected seven tackles and a pass break-up in that game and went on to start Iowa’s final six contests, totaling 63 tackles in his first season on campus.

Twelve pounds, numerous Freshman All-American honors, and less than a year later, everything is still a bit of a blur for Morris as he enters his first full season as Iowa’s starting middle linebacker.

“I feel a little more comfortable — a little more confident going from last year, where I didn’t really know anything, to now,” he said. “[I’m] almost making a full circle — starting a few games, having my first spring ball. It’s been interesting, and I’ve learned a lot.”

Morris admitted his first year in Iowa City didn’t play out how he imagined it. Six starts alone are a lot in an Iowa program that tasks most of its true freshmen with a primary focus on learning the playbook and building muscle.

Ferentz recalled Morris “on the plane taking pictures of the cactus” when the team was at Arizona a week prior to the Penn State contest. A week later, Morris found himself with his first big opportunity — and seized it. The 13th-year head coach credited Morris for being prepared for that opportunity.

“Everything he does, he does it the way you would hope a player would do,” Ferentz said. “He works hard from a physical standpoint. He’s extremely conscientious and detailed. He’s a mature young man, easily beyond his years.”

“His approach — boy, that’s what you’re looking for. You get that in a player, and that’s a great thing.”

Morris said one of his biggest improvements has been as a leader in the huddle. He feels more comfortable making the calls, lining his teammates up, all necessary duties for the defensive equivalent of a quarterback.

One of the players who could be listening to Morris in the huddle, junior safety Collin Sleeper, wasn’t surprised by how well Morris played after being thrown into the fire last season. A former high-school teammate of Morris’ at Solon, Sleeper said he knew Morris could play as soon as he hit the field as a prep freshman.

This year, he expects better.

“I knew he was going to do good things,” Sleeper said. “He’s got a great future. He’s one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. He’s a dedicated individual, and he’s going to do well.”

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