Frequent Flyer No. 44
Dec. 12, 2013
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
NEW YORK CITY -- In football, going coast to coast refers to a 100-yard trek from one goal line to the other. University of Iowa senior James Morris has altered that terminology a bit.
It has been a week filled with hand-shaking, smiles, and plenty of packets of peanuts or pretzels for Morris, who can now be called frequent flyer as well as All-Big Ten Conference linebacker.
On Saturday, Dec. 7, Morris and his mother, Lynn, boarded a plane in Cedar Rapids and flew to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. A connecting flight took them to the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., where he spent two days at the Lott IMPACT function as one of four finalists for defensive impact player of the year. Anthony Barr of UCLA received the award.
"Being in California was an awesome experience because it was a smaller event, so I was able to interface and get to know a lot of interesting people and make some cool connections," Morris said. "We took a boat ride around Balboa Island in Newport Beach and it was neat seeing the houses and boats. The awards banquet was awesome."
"It has been a crazy last couple days. I need some sleep," Morris said. "I'm a little thrown off with jet lag, but there are good memories. Coming to New York City, it's a lot different from Iowa City, so that's an experience in itself. Seeing the big buildings, going to a Broadway show, all that stuff."
On Wednesday, Morris was at LaGuardia -- the sixth airport he visited in five days. All told, he flew more than 6,100 miles and drove at least 100 more. For Morris, the award functions were a blast, but the travel? Not so much, especially when a 6-foot-2, 240-pound Division I football player is flying coach.
"When we were flying from LAX to JFK there was a woman sitting behind me," Morris said. "Every time I tried to adjust my seat or recline, she would have some comment or push on my seat, so that made for a miserable five-hour flight."
Both award functions had their share of news conferences, photo opportunities, and black tie gatherings to keep the football players engaged and entertained. What they didn't always do was keep Morris with a full stomach.
"I think I lost a lot of weight the last couple days," Morris said. "I get thirsty and I'm hesitant to drink water from the sink. I try to drink as much water as I can when we go out to eat. There are no drinking fountains in the Waldorf Astoria, the meals are more banquet meals which aren't as wholesome as what I am used to eating as a football player. We consume about two pounds of food in one sitting. I am going to have some catch-up when I get home."
When Morris returned to Iowa City, his focus switched to academics and the LSU Tigers. A political science major who carries a 3.84 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale), Morris will be done with final exams Dec. 20; the Hawkeyes (8-4 overall) play LSU (9-3) on New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
There were unforgettable moments for Morris during a five-day stretch where he brushed shoulders with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, former quarterback and current NFL super dad Archie Manning, and other great names in college and professional football history.
But his highlight was just hanging out with the guys.
"What has been cool for me is getting to meet the other athletes, talking to them and seeing how everything is different from one school to another."