Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at email@example.com.
For Alfred Morris, Success Comes While Putting His Family First
ASHBURN – Alfred Morris first heard about the red-brick house when he was in elementary school.
His parents, Ronald and Yvonne, sacrificed plenty while raising seven boys. Between their work schedules and caring for their sons, indulgence wasn’t a luxury. Occasionally, they’d let on to one of their personal desires, and Alfred would take note.
For some reason, the casual mention of a red-brick house stuck with him. As far as Alfred could infer, it meant nothing more than a symbol of success, a slice of Americana – just something that said the Morris family had made it.
In one aspect, it has. Alfred Morris is the Washington Redskins’ starting running back as a rookie, and he enters today’s game against Atlanta on pace for 1,500 rushing yards. But to him, there’s so much more to accomplish.
“They haven’t said anything about it in a long time, but I know they still want it, because they always talked about it,” Morris said. “Just as sure one of these days when I save enough money, I’m gonna get them a big red-brick house.”
A ‘CUT ABOVE’ PLAYER
It comes as no surprise that Morris credits his upbringing as the influence for his punishing running style. The humble, soft-spoken, polite middle child, Morris grew up in Pensacola, Fla., in a family where competition was constant and frequently turned physical.
“That came from six brothers at home and from just roughhousing all the time,” said Shawn Morris, Alfred’s younger brother by two years and a senior running back at Birmingham Southern. “My mom, she always said, ‘You’re not a little girl.’ If you fall, scratch your knee, she’d tell us, ‘Get up, wipe it off and keep going.’”
Yvonne, a high school special education teacher, was always the disciplinarian. But Ronald, who would often encourage the children’s rowdy behavior, also had a breaking point.
That kept them all focused, whether it was on their schoolwork, athletics or in the church. They called it “tough love.” None of them wanted to be seen as weak.
It also led them all to football. Nearly all of the boys started out in youth leagues at a young age and all achieved varying levels of success. Alfred set several records at Florida Atlantic, the only Football Bowl Subdivision school to offer him a scholarship out of high school.
“The first thing that stood out about him was his toughness,” said David Serna, FAU’s running backs coach the last seven years. “It’s hard to find that these days, especially in running backs. Guys want to run around people. They don’t really want to break tackles, and yards after contact isn’t as big a deal as it should be for some of those kids. That was the biggest thing with Alfred – his toughness, his willingness to embrace that part of the game.”
When Serna spoke with Redskins running backs coach Bobby Turner for the first time, Turner asked about Morris’ durability; Serna told him he was as resilient as they come.
Turner later fell in love with Morris at the Senior Bowl, considered the top showcase for college players, in January. Morris showed up midweek as a replacement, learned to play fullback and not once made a mistake.
“He is an outstanding person,” said Howard Schnellenberger, who retired as FAU’s head coach after last season. “He is a cut above the majority of human beings and he is a cut above the majority of football players.”
FALLING INTO REDSKINS’ LAPS
Washington chose the 5-foot-10, 218-pound Morris in the sixth round in the NFL Draft in April, making him the 173rd player and the 12th running back chosen. Many scouts believed he fell that far because of what he was asked to do at FAU; he rarely caught passes out of the backfield and worked in a simple pass protection scheme, and above-average ability in both areas is a requirement in the NFL.
Some in the organization even believed if Morris could have shown the talent he’s displayed thus far while in college, he would have been a first-round pick.
“As soon as I saw him run in the preseason games, you could see right away he has a natural feel,” Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said. “You could see him make people miss. I like the way he practices every day because he goes out there with the mindset that he’s gonna give everything that he’s got.”
That’s the rookie’s intent. He thinks often about ways to give back to his parents as a sign of thanks for everything they’ve endured, and one thing comes to mind.
“There’s red, tan, brown brick houses,” Morris said. “There’s a lot of brick houses around, especially in the newer developments they have – the buildings around my high school. A lot of neighborhoods have brick houses in Pensacola.”
Someday, he wants to take them there.