Giving football another shot

BY PARRISH ALFORD
Daily Journal

Once upon a time, Bryce Morrison had a chance to play major college football.

Now he's getting a second chance.

A junior college transfer who just completed his senior season with the Ole Miss baseball team, Morrison – after a discussion with baseball teammate Chad Pilcher, who also plays football – found he has a season of football eligibility left.

“We were on the (baseball) field talking one day, and Chad said, Man, I think you can play. Let me talk to coach Cut (David Cutcliffe),'” Morrison said.

The Leander, Texas, native played two years of baseball at Tyler Junior College before transferring to Ole Miss.

He appeared in 43 games, drew 20 starts at a variety of positions and hit .314 in 2002.

This season Morrison's numbers dipped, his average dropping to .153, a fact that caused his playing time to decrease as well. Playing football, in some way, offers a chance at redemption.

“I had some misfortune in baseball, not having the year I wanted. I figured, hey, why not give football one more shot?” Morrison said. “I don't want to look back and regret anything.”

The Rebels will give Morrison a shot at tight end, a position where they could have used a lift last year. An early injury to Doug Zeigler wiped out a starter and All-SEC candidate.

Later, Bo Hartsfield had his own injury problems. Eric Rice brought receiving skills to the position but with a lighter frame.

Offensive lineman Justin Sawyer moved to tight end in October, but he too was injured – celebrating a touchdown catch at Arkansas.

Heading into 2003, the candidates on hand are healthy, but there isn't a great deal of experience.

Rice (6-3, 230) was listed as the starter at the end of spring drills, followed by talented redshirt freshman Lawrence Lilly (6-4, 265) and sophomore Jimmy Brooks (6-4, 262) who moved over from the defensive line last season.

Morrison stands 6-6 and played this baseball season at 243 pounds.

Football is not foreign territory for him. As a senior at Leander High, he drew interest from the biggest names: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Miami among others. He may never know how many scholarship offers he might have received, because of the baseball issue.

“When I came out my senior year, they all came and watched,” Morrison said.

A versatile high school player, Morrison played tight end as a junior. He was a wide receiver as a sophomore and a quarterback as a senior.

He was a two-time all-district choice and captained a district-championship team as a senior.

“I had a bunch of schools calling me,” Morrison recalled. “Every time they called I told them I wanted to play baseball too. I don't know if that had a bearing (on scholarship offers). I think it did cloud it some. Some schools don't want their athletes to play both.”

Morrison did play both and hit .359 as a high school senior. He was all-district three times and was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 47th round in 1999.

While the game of football will feel like old times, the surroundings will be quite different. Morrison doesn't know exactly what to expect.

Since the baseball season ended almost two weeks ago in Houston, Texas, he has participated in the football conditioning program.

Morrison has a December target date for graduation with a degree in Criminal Justice.

“I just want to make the best of the opportunity I'm getting. Rarely do guys get to do this,” he said. “They act like they need me, so I'm going to give it a shot.”