Ready for Mor(s)e
It's the Fridays.
That's the best part of football, junior Jake Morse said. Even when things don't go well, especially when they go right, it's the Fridays that make it all worthwhile. It's not just the games either. It's the whole day of anticipation, the excitement in the locker room and the thrill of walking on the field -- band blaring, fans screaming -- preparing for the first snap and the first play.
Everyone's watching the starting quarterback.
"Friday nights are awesome. It's everything you'd expect -- the lights, everyone being there," Morse said. "It's great."
Starting Morse -- then just a sophomore -- through the 2005 football season was a "program move," coach Brad Scott said. At times the young hurler looked like a budding all star. Other times he looked like a sophomore playing a game with a bunch of bigger, stronger and faster juniors and seniors.
All the while, Scott said he saw the future of the program, and as the 2006 football season gets set to kick off, he said the future is now.
"You could tell when he was younger he would be a good quarterback," Scott said. "I was really impressed with him when he was a freshman when he was our junior varsity quarterback. We only lost one game that year and it was in the rain and we couldn't throw the ball."
Scott said he first saw Morse's potential when the quarterback went out for football in grade school. The leadership, the poise and the arm strength were all there then, Scott said.
When Morse arrived at high school, he immediately was put on the fast track to take over the program. Scott said he quarterbacked every underclassman game his freshman year -- all the freshman and junior varsity games.
"He had a phenomenal underclass season as a freshman," Scott said. "He had a lot of yards, a lot of big plays and led our teams. He made good decisions.
"We knew it would be his turn, it was just a matter of when."
The "when" question was a tough one to answer this time last year.
Morse had been the team's quarterback all through summer drills as incumbent starter Neil Erisman concentrated on landing a collegiate wrestling scholarship.
In the end, the coaching staff opted to stick with Morse through most of the season, slotting Erisman in wherever they could find room.
Morse went on to have a solid season. He played in all nine games and threw for 913 yards and nine touchdowns. Proving its success wouldn't come so easily though, he allowed seven interceptions and competed just 38 percent of his passes.
"He played like a sophomore. At times he looked like he was the best sophomore we were ever going to have and at times he looked like he'd never played quarterback before in his life," Scott said. "It's tough when you're a sophomore and you're the quarterback. We tried to put more pressure on our older kids last year and I don't know if that was the best decision.
"We put more pressure on our running game and on our linemen, kids that aren't used to that. We took our lumps trying to protect him a little bit."
The Cats missed the playoffs, but pulled out a winning season in the last game of the year -- a 35-7 win over Bonner Springs.
In the offseason, Morse really took the role that had been laid out for him.
Scott said he was a leader in the team's offseason workouts, and worked as long or longer than anyone else in the weight room.
Morse said he lifted weights and worked on his conditioning an hour every day, then threw for half an hour. He usually spent another hour-and-a-half or two hours with a personal trainer.
A year older entering the 2006 season, Morse is more than a year stronger. Both are important, he said.
"I was just trying to bulk up," he said of his summer. "Last year it was harder to take a leadership role when you had a bunch of seniors and juniors around you when you're a sophomore. I had to adjust to it and work through it."
While he doesn't expect the pregame butterflies to go away -- Morse said those probably never will -- he did say he's much more prepared to lead the team this season.
There were countless lessons learned on the field last year, and plenty more learned off of it as well.
On the field, Morse said the team has set a goal to complete 60 percent of all passes. That would have put the quarterback atop the league a season ago.
He also said he wants to learn how to run with the ball better. Erisman was the typical running quarterback, and his style bore little resemblance to Morse's game -- a much more technically sound, drop back passing attack.
Off the field, gone is the nervousness. Scott said you can see that in every step he takes, be in practice, in the gym or in the hallway on the way to class.
"The advantages now is we got a whole year with him as quarterback. Now he'd be nervous and worried and 'How am I going to handle it,' but he has all that under his belt," Scott said. "He seems every inch a quarterback this year. He has really rallied our team around him. We all know deep down when we're on offense, Jake's the guy we're going to listen to."