Behind every football recruit, there's an interesting story. But behind Antoine Morgan-- who committed to Vandy last week-- there's a story that's almost incredible. It's a story of perseverance and triumph over tragedy.
"Antoine was in a major car crash in December [of his junior year]" said Dean Boyd, Morgan's coach at Marlboro County (S.C.) High. "We thought he wasn't going to live. In fact his girlfriend, who was driving the car, did not live.
"At first they told us that if Antoine lived, he'd never play the game again. Then they told us he wouldn't be out of the hospital until about March."
Incredibly, Morgan was out of the hospital in nine days.
"The doctors said that if he hadn't been in such great physical condition, it would have killed him," said Boyd. "He had a crushed chest, he broke all his ribs, he lost his spleen... but in nine days he was out. Within a month and a half he was working out and ready to play football. He played in the state championship game [in basketball] on March 8 of last year."
This past fall Morgan, remarkably, played every snap of every game and led Marlboro County to a perfect 15-0 season and a state championship.
Boyd believes that in Morgan, the Commodores may have found the pass rushing defensive end type they've been sorely lacking.
"Antoine is 6-5, 225 pounds, and runs about a 4.7 40," said Boyd. "He's very quick, a very good edge player and pass rusher. He had 16 sacks for us this year, a new school record.
"The funny thing is, he ended up playing only two games for us at defensive end. We had to move him inside [to tackle], which we knew might hurt his recruiting process. He's not really an inside player naturally, but we needed him there because of our team needs. We called him in to talk about that, and his attitude was, if that's what's going to help the team, then that's what I want to do.
"He's very unselfish. He had 16 sacks playing as an inside player. If we'd put him on the edge the way we did his junior year, he might have more than 20 sacks. He had 15 as a junior.
"I don't know what Vanderbilt's needs are right now, but I think he's the type of player who might go in there and get some early action, even if it's only as a special teams player," Boyd added. "He's well put-together. He's strong, he's quick, he's tall, and he's athletic, all the things that make for a good football player.
"When he gets out of college I imagine he'll be around 255-260 pounds. All he needs is a daily training table. He lives with his mom and probably only gets one good meal a day. I'm sure he's not eating the way he needs to be. When he gets on a schedule where he can eat the way he should, he's going to put on some weight."
Morgan was also a weapon on offense, where he played tight end.
"He had about 12 receptions for about 300 yards," said Boyd. "He's got great hands, and that will be valuable to him. If he can't help [Vanderbilt] off the edge, if they're looking for a tight end, he's good those quick feet and great hands.
"He was a two-way player for us. He never came off the field. He's got the endurance to last a whole game."
Morgan was/is a three-sport star at Marlboro County, where he plays basketball and runs track in addition to playing football.
"In basketball he doesn't start, but he backs up our 6-foot-10 center," said Boyd. "He comes in and gives us some valuable minutes. In track he does the high jump. He's got great leaping ability. He throws the shot some... just whatever the coach needs. He's versatile enough to do a lot of things."
Morgan has played on three state championship teams so far in his four years of high school-- two in football (his freshman and senior years) and one in basketball (his junior year).
"Antoine's just got great leadership abilities," said Boyd. "He's great in the classroom, and has a great academic background.
"You've got to understand Antoine. He lives with his mom. It's just him and his two brothers. There's not a lot of money to go around. Yet he's been able to overcome those obstacles."
In December Morgan had an impressive performance in the South Carolina North-South All-Star Game. "Antoine played tight end in that game," said Boyd. "He caught one pass and did a super job blocking.
"He also probably would have played in the [North Carolina vs. South Carolina] Shrine Bowl, but the position change hurt him a little bit there. The best tight end in the state went to the Shrine Bowl, and because he hadn't played defensive end, they didn't look at him as a defensive end."
Boyd said he is confident Morgan will succeed at Vanderbilt both on the field and in the classroom.
"Vanderbilt is getting not just an excellent football player, and a steal-- they're getting a great person," said Boyd. "I think this kid's going to be one of the best that they've seen.
"I know in recruiting you always want to get those great athletes. But these days sometimes getting that great athlete who's also a great person isn't that easy. I know the university already has some great people there, but they will be better off with an Antoine Morgan there."
Besides Vanderbilt, Morgan received attention from a number of Division I-A schools including Clemson and South Carolina, according to Boyd.
"I think he was sort of a borderline player for [Clemson and South Carolina]-- by that I mean, they liked him, they wanted him, but they would rather get somebody that was already 250," said Boyd. "He's GOING to be that, but you see, he lost 35 pounds in the accident. He went from about 225 to about 185. So he would probably already be around 250 if not for the accident.
"[The instate schools] were a little concerned about that. They asked him to hold off on making a commitment until he heard from them. But Antoine wanted to go ahead and commit and go to Vanderbilt. He's big into academics, and he really likes the new coaches.
"Being from South Carolina we know what those coaches have done at Furman. We have a player from here who's at Furman now, played for Coach [Bobby] Johnson, and loves the program there. He knows what kind of background that staff has, and that played into it too."
Just for the record, Vanderbilt's new coach may not be finished recruiting at Marlboro County, one of the state's traditional powers. Quarterback Syvelle Newton, a 6-2, 210-pound junior on last year's Marlboro County team, is a high-profile prep All-American who will be recruited next year by almost every college in the country. Two years ago Johnson and his staff were successful in recruiting Syvelle's brother, Cam Newton, to Furman.