The Coach’s Corner: Following A Dream
A note from FishDuck.com: Today we have a unique treat, this article is from Coach Mike Morris, who coached at seven different high schools in Southern California for 30 years.
We encourage other coaches that are interested in possibly writing guest columns providing their unique insight to please contact us.
In the early 1970s, at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, I had the privilege of coaching an outstanding young man and great football player, Ricky Bell.
Ricky could have gone to almost any college in the country, but he had a dream: To play tailback for USC. The problem with that was USC wanted Ricky to play linebacker. He still decided to stay close to home and play for the Trojans. Maybe . . .
In his sophomore year, 1974, I got an excited phone call from Ricky. He was being moved to fullback. “I’m getting closer.”
Many of you know the rest of the story: In 1975, Ricky got his dream opportunity; he was moved to tailback. He proceeded to lead the nation in rushing and finish 3rd in the Heisman Trophy voting. In his senior year, 1976, Ricky was the runner-up for the Heisman [behind Tony Dorsett].
In the 1977 NFL Draft, Ricky was the first player in the country selected [by Tampa Bay, ahead of Tony Dorsett by Dallas]. His dream had become a wonderful reality. Unfortunately, Ricky Bell died tragically at a young age. That’s another story.
In 2011, about 5 miles northwest of Fremont, at Crenshaw High School, DeAnthony Thomas had just ended an incredible high school football career. Almost everyone assumed he would be a future All-American corner for USC. He certainly had the ability. At the Army High School All-American game, DeAnthony dominated as a defensive back. He never touched the ball, but everyone highly praised his performance. But the problem for USC was that DeAnthony had a dream: To play running back for the University of Oregon. I think you know how that dream is progressing.
At that same Army All-American game, Colt Lyerla, from Hillsboro, Oregon, was, arguably, the best defensive player on the field and at the practices that week, as a linebacker. USC enthusiastically recruited him as a defensive player. Problem again: Colt wanted to be an offensive player. Oregon gave him an opportunity to follow his dream.
If coaches could create the perfect offensive tackle, he would be an identical twin of Arik Armstead. If Arik wanted to play offense, most experts think he’d be a certain All-American, early first-round NFL pick, and have a lengthy, lucrative career. But Arik dreams of being a defensive end. He’s passing on a sure thing to follow his dream.
Kyle Long has a father in the NFL Hall of Fame, and his brother was the second player in the nation to be drafted for the NFL and now stars for the St. Louis Rams. Both Howie and Chris Long were defensive linemen. Kyle is reportedly around 300 pounds and runs very fast for his size. Another defensive lineman, right? Nope, Kyle first chose baseball over football; that didn’t work. Dreams sometimes don’t. Then, with only two years of college football eligibility left, Kyle decided to switch to offense instead of defense. He played very well in junior college, but now Kyle, with only one year of eligibility, must perform often enough and well enough to get his talented body an opportunity to play at the next level. He could have gone to a lesser team, where he would have had a better opportunity to be a starter. But you know those dreamers.
Possibly the two best wide receivers in the nation could be playing defense — or for Oregon — now, but they didn’t want to.
Keenan Allen originally accepted an Alabama offer to play safety. Oregon recruited him as a wide receiver. Keenan liked that idea, but his parents didn’t want him to go to Oregon. But they agreed to let Keenan go to Cal, where he could follow his dream and play offense with his brother, quarterback Zach Maynard.
USC wanted Marquise Lee to play safety. Oregon wanted Marquise as a wide receiver. When Coach Kiffen lost out on DeAnthony Thomas, he wisely allowed Marquise to play the position he dreamed of.
Besides Colt Lyerla, Oregon has young tight ends who other schools wanted to play defense: Christian French, Evan Baylis, and Pharaoh Brown. And defensive ends who could have played tight end elsewhere: TJ Daniel and Cody Carriger.
Let’s all hope that no one’s dream becomes a nightmare. And let’s remember, as they sang in South Pacific, “If you don’t have a dream, how ya ever gonna make a dream come true?”