Virgil Transforms Challenges into Success
University of Illinois safety Morris Virgil is the definition of versatility. He demonstrates this through his adaptability on the football field, but more importantly, in his life.
Virgil grew up as a young man without a real home. He bounced from foster home to foster home going through situations most young men couldn't imagine. However, Virgil was always able to draw something positive out of a negative situation.
"My past made me want to work harder and be more successful in football, track and all the other sports that I was in. It made me want to make people proud and show people that you can come from anywhere and still be successful in whatever you do in life. Whether you have setbacks or go through things early in your life things can end up working out for you in the future," Virgil said.
Virgil came to the University of Illinois as a highly touted running back with blazing speed. He proved to be a solid running back, but struggled to get a significant number of carries his freshman and sophomore years.
After his sophomore year the Illinois coaching staff suggested Virgil switch to the defensive side of the ball, as a strong safety. "I was told to always respect and honor when someone asks you to do something because they have faith in you and trust you can get the job done, so I just wanted to do what was best for my team. I was successful at running back and I thought things were going pretty well but I had a chance to get on the field a little faster at DB so I just made the most of my opportunity, went out there and took my mentality from running back to DB and just tried to get better every week," he said.
Virgil was a natural in the defensive backfield, accumulating 78 tackles and two interceptions during his junior season. But after the arrival of Ron Zook and a new coaching staff, he was thrown yet another curve ball when asked to switch from strong safety to free safety. But as he always does, Virgil simply took the change in stride.
"I played strong safety my junior year so I was more down in the box getting more tackles. I then moved to free safety when the new coaching staff came in so I had to get some experience and actually learn a different position. It meant doing a little more coverage, which gave me a chance to show my athletic ability," Virgil said.
Aside from playing at the running back, strong safety and free safety positions, Virgil also has experience with special teams and would love an opportunity to contribute on an NFL special teams unit. He returned 23 kickoffs during his college career for an average of 21.2 yards per return. This versatility should help Virgil find his way onto an NFL roster.
"I'm hoping that my athletic ability stands out and the fact I've gone through position changes late in my career and was successful. To do that late in your career is hard and I hope when they look at the film they'll realize I'm a natural athlete and I can get the job done and play the position as well as anybody who's been playing it for four years. Hopefully they'll see my upside and look at it like this guy just learned this position and he could get a whole lot better," Virgil said.
Kelvin Hayden, drafted in the second round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2005, was a teammate of Virgil's at Illinois and went through a similar transition as a senior, from wide receiver to cornerback. Virgil looks to Hayden for advice and inspiration, hoping an NFL team will give him the same opportunity.
"I get advice from Kelvin; he also switched over to the defensive side of the ball. He only had one more year [when he switched to defense] while I had two so I was able to get a little more experience at the college level. Kelvin really made a big impact on our team and I looked up to him because he made a switch in his career that could have been upward or downward for him. I really admire him for making that switch because he was the leading receiver on our team the year before and it showed he was a team player," he said.
Learn more about Morris and why he qualifies as a Colts Hot Prospect in our exclusive interview for ColtPower Insiders!
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