FAYETTEVILLE — Former Greenwood High School linebacker came to the University of Arkansas a preferred walk-on recruit, but has since earned a scholarship and now is one of the team’s captains heading into 2020 season.
As a junior in 2019, Morgan played in all 12 games. He finished with 39 tackles which was tied with Montaric Brown for fifth on the team. He had nine solos, three for loss and one sack. He talked about his goals for this fall.
“It has definitely sunk in,” Morgan said of being a senior. “I kinda pinch myself every single day and hope I’ve got four more years waiting for me. One thing that I want to lead best I can. I want to be the best leader that I can. I want to win games. I know it’s a team goal, but that’s before me anyway.
“Just be the best teammate I can be. Showing these freshmen a good way to lead and a good way to learn and good way just to be somebody they can look to. I come every single day and just get ready to work. Get a positive attitude and just be the guy I am. Have fun and enjoy it because you know the days are numbered. It has just been fun to see these guys grow up. Other than that it’s just about playing ball at the end of the day and that’s just fun.”
The Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back 2-10 seasons. While everyone has a positive attitude and feels good about themselves right now, how does Morgan think this team will react when it gets hit in the mouth?
“The main thing that you are really wanting to do as a football team you want to go and fight for somebody or someone,” Morgan said. “If it’s not for yourself it’s for someone else. If it’s not for someone else it’s for yourself. I think everyone in this room right now we go every single day because Coach (Sam) Pittman has put in our head it’s a work day every single day. We have some days where the offense kicks our butt and we have some days where the defense just leads and continues to go. I think to see the different kind of competition that we have on both sides of the ball we’re gonna be ready for stuff to happen.
“We’re in a different type of time right now where you never know what is gonna happen. I think we’ve been adaptable because of the times we’re in right now. We’ve got to be able to know what’s going on. We’ve got to be able to have people step up. I think really getting punched in the face is stuff we’ve done over the past three or four months because it’s a part of life right now. Like I am talking to you on Zoom or whatever this is right now and that’s just something we’ve literally never done. So getting punched in the face is normal.”
Pittman has continued to want improvement from the linebackers just like any other position. Morgan said the group has responded.
“I really don’t think anybody needs any more chips on their shoulder in our linebacker room, because I think every single person is trying to be the best they can be,” Morgan said. “Coach Pittman is saying that stuff because he knows not a single position is already set in stone for any position on the field. I think you can say as much as you want about certain positions, but every single person is fighting. Even those guys. Even the starting blank is starting for his job right now more than anybody. I think that’s the difference between our team right now compared to the past that I’ve been here. I think that we’ve really grown into fighting for our positions and fighting for something that we all want to get better. When one person succeeds we all succeed.
“Being a leader in the linebacker room, we’ve had a lot of people step up. I like to say I want to lead and I am the leader. But I’ll tell you right now we have people that aren’t afraid to talk and aren’t afraid to voice their opinion in our room, which is really good. The more minds that can come together as one is the best we can do. I know as a team, I know our linebackers really lead the defense. We kind of have the juice. We have the energy. We have the aura I guess you could say. We have the impact on what our defense can be. It just flows from within us. Everyone feeds off each other. It just goes as we go. I think that’s how a good defense has to be. You win up front. You can win or lose in the back. But I know your leaders and your captains and everybody speaking from a confidence level needs to be from within the middle with the linebackers.”
Morgan was asked if he is on special teams as well as linebacker?
“Yes, I’m playing on special teams,” Morgan said. “Coach (Scott) Fountain really emphasized if you want to go to the league or if you want to go anywhere after this you’ve gotta be able to be on special teams and play special teams. I’ve really loved special teams the last four years, or three years. I’ve really just loved being a part of every single one I can be on.
“Coach Fountain, he’s a genius. His past records and stuff doesn’t just come from being lucky. Coach Fountain is one of those guys, he’s going to demand perfection from you. There’s a couple times I was literally within two inches of where he wanted me to go, and I think I got ripped just as hard as anyone else. So, I really like that from him. He demands perfection. He wants everyone to be great. He’s a good coach.”
What’s it like having a special team’s coordinator?
“I think one thing that really sets the tone is when Coach Pittman brought Coach Fountain over and we realized special teams is a third of the whole game,” Morgan said. “Really in yardage it puts up just as much as offense and defense. Whenever we have a guy like Coach Fountain come in and emphasize special teams and show the best special teams are usually when your guys are playing on them, and he’s showing examples after examples of people going to the league, I think it kind of catches peoples eyes. Because everyone here wants to go to the NFL.
“When you have guys to really buy in that know special teams could change the game and make a difference in a positive or negative way, you get buy in. That’s one thing for a football team you really need is buy-in in all phases. Everyone says buy in to the head coach or the OC or DC. One thing we’ve really done here at Arkansas is we’ve bought in to special teams. I think that kind of comes in along the lines with your question, because when you have a set special teams coach, you buy in when you know it’s important to them because it’s important to us.”
Morgan was married earlier in the year. He talked about married life and how that has been so far.
“Married life is awesome,” Morgan said. “I know I came earlier out in quarantine and said it’s been weird because we got married and we spend all our time together. I love her and she’s awesome. She pushes me harder than anyone in the room I promise you that. So, I know I found the right one there.”
While the Hogs won’t open the season until Saturday, Sept. 26, against Georgia some games have already been on TV. Morgan talked about he and Bumper Pool watching some of the action.
“”Yeah, it’s definitely different,” Morgan said. “Me and Bumper were talking the other day, it’s weird waking up on a Saturday, going to practice, going home and actually knowing you have other football to watch. It feels like three bye weeks in a row. But I think it makes us eager.
“I think it shows right now, because we’re watching those team who aren’t picked to win, we’re watching those guys upset people. We saw the Big 12 and just a couple of teams, it’s just weird games that you watch and you’re like, ‘This is why we love football.’ It’s just fun games to watch, just makes you want to go out there and play, be there with your guys. It makes you want to have a normal Saturday, but just knowing that it’s right around the corner is also feeding us. We only have six more practices, so I think really seeing that and the window go down.”
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Andrew Parker and fifth-year senior Deon Edwards have drawn frequent praise this preseason for their work at linebacker.
“Andrew and Dede they really have stepped up,” Morgan said. “They have done a lot better. They really have focused on their craft. AP is starting to hit super hard. They are both are starting to flying around. Dede is starting to grow up and starting to learn the scheme really good.
“There’s a lot of guys stepping up. (Levi) Draper has been doing really well. The young guys are all stepping up. Jake Yurachek, everybody is just kinda growing into their role and knowing that we can play really good linebacker football here. As a group I just love seeing it being an older guy who has been in the room with Brooks Ellis, Dre Greenlaw and just seen guys form and mold into good football players. Not just guys who are one dimensional. So it’s really fun over these last couple of weeks just seeing them knowing they go as their confidence goes. As soon as they know they can do it then in our linebacker then we have guys who can go and do it. It’s fun seeing them. They are growing up big time.”
Does it appear the linebackers have improved this year?
“Definitely, the linebackers have improved big-time,” Morgan said. “When someone like Scoota Harris leaves your room or Dre Greenlaw leaves your room you’ve got to have people step up and you’ve got to come with a group. So I think definitely linebacker group has stepped up big time.”
Draper is a grad transfer from Oklahoma who is a junior. Morgan talked more about him.
“He’s been doing good,” Morgan said. “One thing that he’s done is, it’s just a different type of football. Coming from Oklahoma, they played a different defense. It’s just being able to come here and learn the different verbiage. Everything comes fast and especially when we were going in the spring, we were kind of online and didn’t really get to be together. So for him it was just getting more reps and just realizing like ‘this is this, you’re seeing this, I need to be tighter.’
“So whenever it just slows down, the more experienced people know how to play certain reps and they know what to expect with certain guys. If I play against Myron Cunningham every single day, I end up learning his tendencies. So Draper kind of figured it out as time went. Now he’s playing really good ball. He’s learning the defense really good. He’s always asking us questions and we’re always giving him feedback. We’re always feeding off each other. It’s really good to see him, because he’s not a young guy. He’s an older guy, I think he’s going to be a junior. He’s one of those guys who’s really come along and he’s really just been able to learn it. He’s progressed over the four or five months that I’ve seen him go. So it’s really good to see him just be able to bring what he’s learned from Oklahoma and use it here, as well.”
During Tuesday’s practice, Barry Odom was working with just two linebackers. They were Hayden Henry and Zach Zimos. Morgan talked about that.
“Definitely, if we do a three-linebacker, that’s what we’re kind of working for,” Morgan said. “Like we’ve all said that’s talked to y’all, Coach Odom is as multiple a guy as can be. We’re going to run so many different things and that’s why we love him. We’re going to have a lot of different fronts, we’re going to have a lot of different things if we need a bigger ‘backer.
“But yeah, I talked to Hayden today actually and asked him what’s it like working with Odom. He said, ‘Man, he’s working me.’ He put that whole individual drill y’all probably saw, they were the only two guys there. Odom was just focused right on them. He was making them tackle, making them get up and run, making them go do it again. He was just saying it’s awesome because of how much knowledge he has. He brings it and he just focuses all on you, and you can kind of open his mind up and get him to laugh and joke about it.
“I know they’re having fun. I know they feel comfortable there because that’s what Hayden has played the past couple of years. So it’s good to see them doing that, playing in space, playing out there, making plays out there. They’ve both done really good. All I know is working with Coach Odom is fun. Coach Odom is a great guy, Coach Rhoades is a great guy. Our defensive staff is really fun. They’re really good guys, they’re really good coaches, and it’s going to be a fun year playing with them.”
The team held a mock game this past Saturday. Morgan was asked if the offense or defense won that?
“Saturday was really just like a mock game,” Morgan said. “It really wasn’t a winner-loser, it was all scripted. We wanted to get the feel of what a game was going to feel like, because we’ve never had these coaches obviously. We wanted to see what our pregame was going to be like, what we expected to see before the games.
“Coach Pittman really emphasized locking in and acting like it was an actual game, because we were 2 weeks away exactly. So just to see from the guys on how it’s supposed to be, just knowing this is what we do, because all of the rules kind of changed this year. I don’t know if everyone’s seen it. I didn’t really know until I heard from Coach Pittman, but you can’t go out before a game except but like 5 minutes before or 5 minutes of the 90 minutes or something. There’s just a lot of rules. We’re just listening to our coaches, following along and knowing they’re going to tell us what to do and make sure we stay on top of that.”
The other captains are quarterback Feleipe Franks, defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall and running back Rakeem Boyd. All four are seniors.