Morris overcomes adversity to realize dream

The route of some newcomers on Arizona State's football team was less smooth than others, and junior college transfer, Joseph Morris, describes his journey as a "dirt road." Now that the wide receiver has reached his desired destination he realizes that his experiences along the way can benefit him on and off the field.

The 6-3 206-pound Joseph Morris played at Pierce College, a school that featured several 2013 Arizona State prospects. The wide receiver was impressed by the Sun Devils early in the recruiting process.

"They just laid out their whole plan and I knew about Coach Graham's track record and success," Morris said. "That grabbed my interest right away. I'm a huge college football fan so I knew about Arizona State and I watched them a lot, seeing players like Vontaze Burfict, Brock Osweiler and Gerell Robinson.

"I knew that everywhere he went Coach Graham had an explosive offense and was always part of winning programs. He was a big part of me committing because I wanted to be part of a successful program. I know he's demanding coach, but that's because he wants the best for you. If he expects a lot from you, that mean he expects a lot from himself. If you have that approach from the top it affects the whole program."

The wide receiver prepped at American Heritage High School in West Palm Beach, Fla. and was committed to the University of Wisconsin. Academics did temporarily derail his path to a Division I school as he was forced to take the junior college route.

"I knew players who went to Pierce and by going there they had a chance of being on a Division I team," Morris remarked. "I thought going there would be an easy transition for me. I didn't know anybody once I got there, but I knew that it was going to be a beneficial place for me."

As a freshman in 2011 Morris caught 29 passes for 529 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 18.2 yards per reception, validating his prediction that he was going to be successful at the junior college level despite being three time zones away from home.

"The only thing I was surprised about was that in high school I was more of a defensive player," said Morris who played linebacker at American Heritage. "I only made that transition to receiver in junior college because I was told that I would excel at and I did. I enjoyed being a primary target and playing that position.

"I was still learning the position when I played there, but I knew I was going to have a career at wide receiver. We had a loaded team and I know that playing there I was going to have schools notice me and recruit me."

***

Last summer, Morris and several of his teammates took an unofficial recruiting visit to Tempe, an event that naturally was significant in the wide receiver's decision to pledge to the maroon and gold.

"My biggest thing on the visit was meeting the players and see how family oriented the team is," Morris recalled. "You saw everyone hanging out and just gelling together. So seeing that atmosphere and knowing Coach Graham's record and how straight forward he is, I knew this was the place for me. In our conversation I could tell how much of a leader he is.

"I had some big schools recruiting me too like LSU, Auburn and Kansas, but Arizona State was my first offer. I knew it was a great opportunity for me and that is why I committed to them."

***

In contrast to his first year at Pierce, Morris' sophomore campaign presented many more challenges. Although the wide receiver played in just four games in 2012 he was extremely productive during those contests posting 20 receptions for 342 yards (a 17.1 yard average per reception) and five touchdowns. He also had four punt returns averaging 24.8 yards a return, and returned one of them for a 70-yard touchdown.

Yet, those on the field feats were in danger of being inconsequential in his bid to play for the Sun Devils due to some off the field events at that time.

"For me to qualify for Arizona State, it wasn't going to be beneficial for me to play that season," Morris explained. "I had to take care of my classes so I would be eligible to play. I sat out the first three games of the season because of my studies, then played four games, and then didn't play again the rest of that year. I guess you can say that football got in the way of me doing well in class.

"I was still practicing and staying in shape but not playing."

Morris, who verbaled to ASU last July, admitted that having the peace of mind of being already committed to a Division I school, did help him put football in its proper perspective and secondary to his academics.

"Being committed and getting me closer to my dream pushed me to do well in school," Morris commented. "Coach Graham was a huge advocate of academics and getting my degree. From day one in recruiting he talked about the importance of education.

"Arizona State was confident in my abilities so they were OK with me taking time off and concentrating on my classes. I didn't feel at all that I was going to lose my edge because I wasn't playing. I was still practicing and I felt that I was progressing. I know I will show that this year at Arizona State. "

***

Morris returned home to Florida not only to finish his studies, but also to be nearby when his son Jayden arrived on January 7th of this year. This life changing event unsurprisingly had a profound impact on the ASU newcomer.

"Your perspective changes and you have added motivation," Morris noted. "You definitely have more responsibility on your plate. Now there was always a task to be done and I always had to make sure I was on the right path no matter what I was doing. When you have a goal in mind that need to be taken care of, you don't have that much free time anymore. It (the birth of his some) really builds your character.

"So now it was all about going to school, taking care of my son and working out. The only other thing I did when I had free time was go to church on the weekend. It's not that I was immature before, but this made me grow up a lot. It just became a very different life for me."

ASU Head Coach Todd Graham is an individual who not only stresses the high character and morals he wants his players to possess, but also being disciplined in everything one does. Those are virtues that Morris not only admired for a while, but also merits that proved to be extremely advantageous to the wide receiver and the circumstances he was presented.

"Everybody talks about Tempe being like a resort town," Morris said, "and you can have a lot of distractions because of that. But when you get there you have to take care of your business. Coach Graham takes a lot of interest in our personal lives and helps you achieve that discipline and that helps. I can't say enough about him as a person.

"Coach Graham was a father for the first time when he was even younger than I was, and that's why he's a great mentor to talk to because he knows where I'm coming from. I'm so blessed to be in the situation I am here having a coach like him."

***

Morris has been on campus now for a couple of weeks or so after completing his summer course work. Much like his routine for the last several months, life in Tempe has been all about hard work and discipline for the wide receiver.

"Academics are better than junior college, that's for sure," Morris noted. "Here you have the help of tutors and academic advisors. Everything is scheduled and there is a strong sense of structure. So it's very hard not to do well in your academics. I'm working on becoming a Scholar Baller.

"The workouts have been demanding. Coach Griz is great and just part of a great staff that Coach Graham has. I thought I got here in shape, but that wasn't at a Division I level. That wasn't Devil Strength. That has definitely been an adjustment. I came in at a solid weight, but I just need to get stronger and faster. I need to gain some more muscle and I'm eating a lot better. I want to gain weight gradually and eventually get to 220 lbs."

Morris' frame is one that allows him to play in a physical manner, and that is exactly the role the wide receiver said the coaches are envisioning for him.

"They said that they love how I'm bigger than defensive backs covering me," Morris said, "and that I can also take on linebackers in the box. I'm a big special teams advocate and I can be a game changer there too both making tackles and returning."

The struggles of the ASU receivers last season have been well documented and have led to the signing of five newcomers at the position, including Morris, in the Sun Devils' 2013 recruiting class. Like the other challenges he has been faced with, Morris doesn't view this situation as a pressure one but rather motivation to succeed.

"I'm excited to be a player that the team is counting on," Morris stated. "But I also know that these (returning) players have done nothing but get better since last season. So I don't want to show any disrespect to them.

"I heard the talk (about last season) and I want the coaches to expect big things from me. They bring JC players in to play right away so that's more motivation for me."

***

If all goes as planned, Morris won't be the only Pierce College wide receiver on this year's Arizona State roster, as he is scheduled to be joined by his former teammate, Jaelen Strong, who is working these days to academically qualify.

"We complement each other well," Morris noted. "We're both two good wide receivers who do different things on the field, and that's what you need – diversity at the wide receiver position.

"I talk to him and I know he's motivated to be here with me. We enjoyed the success we had at Pierce but we know that we'll do nothing but get better here at Arizona State. We both got our fair share of publicity, but now it's time to do our thing on a bigger stage at the Pac-12."

As Morris interacts with his new teammates, accomplishing greatness is a sentiment that is wide spread among an ASU team who feels primed for a breakout season this year.

"I kept on hearing about the ‘sleeping giant' talk about the team," Morris said, "and I look at last year and their record and I see that they missed out on a couple of plays here and there that could turn an already successful season into a very good one. We're returning a lot of good players and that's huge for your experience.

"So we are a talented team and we should accept that challenge to be better. We got everything right here to have a good season right now."

***

It's often been said that a man's true character is measured the most in times of adversity, and thus far Joe Morris has successfully dealt with the trials and tribulations that life has dealt him in the last 12 months. The wide receiver believes that several "humbling" experiences in his past will only benefit him this year and in the future in all aspects of his life.

"I took the dirt road to get here to Arizona State," Morris said. "Being able to play football is a blessing but so is the birth of my son. Being a father is very rewarding and I'm always told that for a man there is no better feeling than being a father.

"I went through some tough situations and had to make tough choices, but they have only made me stronger and have allowed me to grow a lot as well. I wouldn't be the person that I am now if I didn't go through those experiences."

***

Recruit Profile

Name

Joseph Morris

Junior College

Pierce College, Cal.

Position

Wide receiver

Height

6-3

Weight

206

Date of Birth

3/14/91

Birthplace

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Nickname

"J-Deuce, because I'm Joseph Morris II."

Favorite TV Show

"First Take"

Favorite Movie

"Billy Madison."

Favorite Singer

"Wiz Khalifa"

Favorite Food

"Chicken."

Favorite Drink

"Powerade."

Favorite Athlete

"Anquan Boldin."

Favorite Pro Team

"Miami Heat."

Person you most admire

"My mother because of her consistency and persistence and love. She's always been able to provide for us."

First Football Memory

"I was eight years old in 3rd grade and I just started playing football. Before my first ever game I was practicing at tackle, but when we running sprints the coaches noticed that I was the fastest on the team, and decided to try me at running back. So in my first game I ran 40 yards for a touchdown. I had no football swag at that point so after I scored I just handed the football the ref and ran to the sideline."

Why did you choose ASU?

"Coach Graham."

Where do you want to be in ten years?

"I want to be playing professionally and also being a sports commentator on TV. I'm going to school for my Communications degree so I want to work in broadcasting."


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