Nearly four years ago, Antonio Morrison made his first memorable mark in Florida Gators football history. With the Gators trailing 20-16 to 10th ranked Florida State in Tallahassee, Morrison baptized EJ Manual with a bone-crushing hit that caused a fumble. The ball was recovered by Dominique Easley and eventually led to a Mike Gillislee go ahead touchdown one play later. Just in case you forgot take a trip down memory lane here:
Morrison arrived at Florida as an accomplished football player and was a part of a talented class — a class that included NFL draft picks Dante Fowler, Jr., D.J. Humphries, Matt Jones and other high school All-American’s Jonathan Bullard, Marcus Maye and Brian Poole as well. Coming from Bolingbrook High School, 30 miles outside of Chicago, Morrison was a 4-star linebacker by many services. In high school, he was a USA Today (2nd Team), ESPN (3rd Team) and Sports Illustrated (Honorable Mention) All-American. Morrison was state champion his senior year and a member of the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.
That play against Florida State revealed the potential for a tremendous career for the Illinois native. The manifested ability that we see in Morrison today has not come without trials on and off the field. The summer of 2013 may have been the toughest part for Morrison during his time at Florida. That summer Morrison was arrested twice, once for punching a bouncer in Gainesville and again for barking at a police dog. Many were disappointed because of the promise he showed as freshman, and at the time many were ready to write him off.
Less than a year ago, after finally having the season many expected of him, recording over 100 tackles, Morrison suffered a devastating knee injury in the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina. The injury threatened this season, and once again many thought Morrison may have been out again. But once again Morrison willed himself through adversity to become one of the leaders on this year’s team.
At times, when things seemed to be coming unglued through his four years at Florida, it turns out that he was the glue that mended this team together. As Florida was going through a coaching change, Morrison continued to work. In the off-season we heard about the progress of his rehabilitation but did not think it was realistic that he would see the field against New Mexico State. As the Gators entered into fall camp and we saw Morrison running around in practice, we still did not think he would take the field in the first game of the season.
September 5th of this season, Antonio Morrison overcame once again. On the Aggies first series, Morrison ran sideline to sideline three plays in a row, though he did not make any tackles, the hurdle was cleared. This season Morrison leads the team with 84 tackles; he has record 11 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Antonio has also been recognized for multiple awards this year including being named Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week for this performance against Ole Miss.
Antonio Morrison deserves a true round of applause for his performance on and off the field. He has gone from career and character rehab, to a career full of accomplishment and vigor. What we should appreciate about Morrison as he runs out onto the Swamp one last time this Saturday, is that from the first play of his career until now, he has never taken a play off. He has played every single play with purpose and intensity. When Morrison hits an opposing player we feel his passion in the collision. The same passion he has shown between the lines, has affected his teammates, his coaches and us as fans. His has become a joy to watch and listen to.
In life we are sometimes thrust into leadership roles, regardless if we desire them or not. Sometimes the spotlight shines on us in our best moments and in our worst. It is those people that avoid excuses, avoid blaming others and avoid ducking responsibility that rise in moments of crisis to do special things. Antonio Morrison has risen to every occasion in his career to become one of the best at this position in the country. Morrison may try to evade the spotlight but he has become a bright spot in Florida football history. He has been through many battles but his ability to remain standing when the smoke clears has made him one of the memorable gladiators to don the orange and blue.
The 2012 recruiting class was the first that Andrew Spivey covered. Throughout the week he will share a moment, story or experience that he had with each of the seniors that he covered as recruits.
Spivey Story: My First memory of Antonio Morrison is one that still rings true about him today. Antonio would rather the spotlight be on his teammates rather than himself. When Morrison committed to Florida he didn’t want the talk to be about himself but rather how his teammates had helped him in earning the offer and had helped put him into a position to commit and play at the University of Florida. To celebrate his commitment, Morrison threw a pizza party at his house for his teammates to celebrate with him. For that, I will always remember Antonio Morrison as a team-first guy.