Morris Stands Tall, Proud Until the End
Jan. 1, 2014
TAMPA, Fla. -- The game clock said the college football career for University of Iowa senior linebacker James Morris was over, but that didn't stop him from seizing another opportunity to lead.
The Outback Bowl scoreboard showed a 21-14 advantage for No. 14 Louisiana State University on New Year's Day 2014, but before the Hawkeyes exited Raymond James Stadium, Morris was offering direction once again, holding the majority of the team until it became the entire team.
At game's end, at the end of his career, Morris stood tall and proud, his signature No. 44 black jersey covered in green and splattered with a mixture of purple and gold.
"We wanted to make sure when we swarmed off the field we had everybody," Morris said. "Sometimes when we do it, some guys straggle in, and we knew this would be the last time the 2013-14 Hawkeyes would be able to swarm together. We wanted to make sure we did it right."
Morris did a lot of things right during his four seasons in Iowa City. He spent the month of December flying around the country representing all that is good about student-athletes at the UI. He spent the first day of 2014 flying around Raymond James Stadium terrorizing LSU's offense.
Morris finished his final game with eight tackles, making him the sixth player in school history to reach 400. He sacked LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings twice, giving him eight for the season and becoming the first linebacker to lead the team in sacks since the statistic began being charted 27 years ago.
The legacy of Morris could be characterized by his flashy football numbers, but it could easily be remembered for his grade-point average. There were never any off-the-field incidents with the native of Solon, Iowa. His career was laced with impressive on-field incidents and outstanding classroom conduct.
"I would thank the fans, they don't need to thank me," Morris said. "If it weren't for the fans, none of this would be possible. The fans make games like this so special. They travel down here by the thousands, pack the stadium, and provide the resources that make our experience positive."
Morris and the Hawkeyes remained classy until the end, not letting emotions take over, even when anger and sadness were playing tug-o-war during the waning moments.
Iowa relied on its leadership when the first quarter statistics showed a yardage deficit of 109-to-25. The Hawkeyes needed direction when it faced a two-touchdown deficit with 122 seconds left, but still had a chance to tie the game 121 seconds later.
"It wasn't looking good today and all the sudden we're right back in the ball game," UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That doesn't happen if you're not built right internally, and I will circle right back to those linebackers."
Morris will tell you that this group of Hawkeye seniors wasn't the most talented. He will also tell you they played hard and strived to do right every play on the field and every second off.
"I was glad I ended my season and my college career on an effort where I thought everybody played hard and left it all on the field," Morris said. "The ball just didn't go our way today."
Iowa averaged nearly seven wins a season since 2010 and this senior class enjoyed bookend eight-win seasons and participated in three bowls. There were times when it looked as though the ball wasn't bouncing the way of the Hawkeyes, but because of Morris and Co., the final score usually ended in Iowa's favor.
"Everything you do in life starts with working hard. We came up short today, but I'm extremely proud of these guys, and it has been a lot of fun to be around them on a daily basis," Ferentz said. "This group has shown the younger guys how to work, how to think, how to act. I just hope everybody is paying attention."
The defensive play of the 2014 Outback Bowl was an interception and 71-yard return by Hawkeye junior John Lowdermilk. Few will remember what forced LSU into a third-and-10 passing situation. The previous play was Morris stopping Outback Bowl MVP Jeremy Hill for no gain.
It was one of many memorable on-field moments for Morris, who won't let his career be defined simply when he wore a helmet and shoulder pads.
"I got to experience a lot of cool things, but most importantly I got to meet a lot of really interesting people and build some close relationships that I will have for the rest of my life," he said.