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Most Harvard seniors find out if they’ve gotten a certain job privately, either through the mail or a phone call. Carl Morris, however, will learn where he is spending the next several years on a more public medium—television.
Morris and his roommates will gather in his Dunster suite tomorrow and Sunday to follow the National Football League’s (NFL) college draft on TV along with millions of other football fans. While dozens of so-called “experts” have published dozens of predictions on what round and to what team the Harvard wide receiver and two-time Ivy Player of the Year will be selected, the truth is Morris could end up in any one of the NFL’s 31 cities.
“I don’t really expect a certain position [in the draft],” Morris says. “All the people that get paid to predict this…nobody’s going to be right. I’m just waiting for it to be over.”
There is a very short payoff in the draft for the amount of work a player puts in. While Morris’ name will only light up the television screen for a few seconds, he has been preparing for the moment since the second after the Harvard-Yale game ended last November.
The first thing to do was sign with an agent. After a tedious process of culling through scores of offers, Morris and his parents settled on Eric Hall of Guardian Sports in Philadelphia. Hall immediately set Morris up with a trainer to get him ready for professional workouts.
Atlanta became Morris’ second home from December until March. He went down to Georgia to train with premier fitness guru Chip Smith, who specializes in getting NFL prospects ready for the league’s February “combine”—a comprehensive scouting weekend where coaches from all 32 pro teams examine nearly every player.
“It was intense,” Morris says. “I would leave on Thursdays and come back Sunday.”
Morris also spent most of winter break down in Atlanta, where he interacted with some of Smith’s other charges, including Notre Dame’s Arnaz Battle and star Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman. Right after Christmas, with a month of solid workouts under his belt, Morris made his first foray into big-time college football by playing in the Shrine Bowl in San Francisco. Under the gaze of dozens of scouts on hand to see this collegiate all-star game, Morris made a nice splash with impressive route-running and highlight-reel catches.
“I got all the standard jokes from the guys from the big programs,” Morris recalls. “Definitely got my share of Harvard jokes. It kind of set me apart, everyone knew me because my nickname became ‘Harvard.’”
Of course there was still academic life to attend to. Morris got back from California two days before his first exam this winter, took his tests and then headed straight for the airport, where he flew to Honolulu during intercession to compete in the Hula Bowl, another all-star game.
He caught a pass one-handed and even got to show off his throwing arm (something Crimson fans were used to) by tossing a touchdown pass. The Hula Bowl also reunited Morris with his former college quarterback, Neil Rose, who lives in Hawaii and got in a few snaps.
Now used to flying thousands of miles a week, Morris returned to Cambridge, registered for second-semester classes—and promptly went down to Atlanta.
WORKIN’ (OUT) OVERTIME
Having finally paired off against top collegiate competition, Morris knew what he had to work on to get teams to notice him. The all-star games presented Morris on a national stage and allowed him to show off his size—6’3, 215 lbs.—and abiltiy to catch the ball.
“Between the two games, I cut down my weaknesses,” Morris says, referring to early scouting reports on his skills. “Level of competition, ability to release off a real press, speed—a lot of people thought I was going to go out there and be star-struck.”
Morris spent nearly all of February training in Atlanta until the combine, e-mailing assignments in to his professors. Finally, he headed to Indianapolis late in the month for the scouting circus that is the combine. Many draft experts consider the four-day event a crucial barometer in determining how high in the draft a player gets selected.
“The whole deal about the combine is that it’s stressful, and the whole purpose of it is to be stressful,” Morris says. “The coaches want to see how you handle the pressure.”
The first day featured introductory meetings and an opportunity to let the players get acquainted. The next day was a hypochondriac’s fantasy but an athlete’s nightmare—a full battery of physicals and medical tests. Each team wants their own doctor checking individual players. At last count, Morris says he had 32 X-rays and at least 2 MRI’s.
Mental toughness was the key to the third day, which is advertised as a “rest day” but only the athletes’ bodies get to relax. Professional football coaches—the Spurriers, Grudens, Mariucci’s and Parcells—grilled the young men about their motivations, abilities and personal lives, trying to determine whether or not they could handle the intensity of the NFL. The New York Giants administered their infamous Wunderlich psychological examination—and Morris passed with flying colors, scoring a 29 (a 30 or above is stratospheric).
Morris says that the overall pressure-cooker atmosphere of the combine is somewhat alleviated by the jovial nature of the fellow players involved. Players from all different locales and conferences got to know each other, becoming fast friends and awaiting the day they will be millionaires.
Morris was also reunited in Indianapolis with Harvard teammate Jamil Soriano, an offensive lineman who will also be drafted this weekend.
“It was good to be out there and see somebody familiar,” Morris says. The sight of two Harvard football players—Harvard!—definitely rattled some participants at the combine.
“People were more surprised than anything else,” Soriano says. “It has been since at least the 1950s that there were two or more Harvard players going into the draft.”
On the final day, Morris worked out for all the scouts and coaches, going through the same drills he’d done a thousand times. While he ran a relatively pedestrian 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash—which measures pure speed—Morris continued to showcase his body control and soft hands.
“Lots of people wrote that I ran better than expected [in the 40], which was good,” Morris says. “I’m fine with it because [speed] is the biggest knock on me right now. All the coaches I talked to…they like the way I catch the ball. I feel overall I had a strong combine, I didn’t have a great combine.”
BACK TO CAMBRIDGE
After the combine, Morris returned to campus and has gotten back in the classroom.
But he works out with trainers at Harvard and has participated in individual workouts here for NFL teams that want to see more. Recently, representatives from the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens have visited, and Morris was invited down to Maryland to work out for the Washington Redskins.
“I know who is interested, but I don’t know who’s showing the most interest,” Morris offers. “I’ve heard about a lot of interest from the Arizona Cardinals, Vikings, Ravens, and got a call from the Dolphins recently.”
He says he doesn’t care where he goes.
Actually, not so fast.
“My family says they won’t watch me if I’m drafted by the Dallas Cowboys,” Morris admits. “We’re Redskins fans, and it’s Cowboys and Indians forever.”
Teams looking at Morris will be trying to fill a size need at wide receiver. While in the Ivy League he could outrun and out-jump most defensive backs, Morris’ strength in the pros will be his ability to go across the middle of the field and make the catch. Morris has also emphasized to NFL coaches that the “pro-style” offense run by Harvard coach Tim Murphy strengthened his ability to read defenses and get open.
“I think I’d be able to contribute immediately,” Morris says.
Morris and Soriano are doubtless helped by the recent history of Harvard graduates in the NFL. Offensive lineman Matt Birk ’98, a member of the Vikings, has been a perennial All-Pro. Isaiah Kacyvenski ’00, who Morris still talks with frequently, is now a starting linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks.
HURRY UP AND WAIT
The fate of the two Harvard players is still uncertain. While position can affect the amount of money one can make, Morris says he will not be surprised if he goes as high as the fourth round or as low as the seventh and final round.
For the most part, matters are now out of his hands. There is not much he can do to affect a team’s assessment of him, other than answer the myriad of phone calls from teams conducting background checks (Have you ever been arrested for a felony? How many children do you have?).
Morris has had to deal with some minor controversy surrounding stories in The Boston Globe. The Globe reported that Morris had attended a pro scouting session at B.C., and had done poorly. The Globe attributed his performance to a spring break trip to Cancún, according to unnamed sources.
The only problem? Morris never went to the B.C. scouting session, as The Crimson has confirmed, nor has he ever been to Cancún.
Distractions, of course, will only pick up after the weekend. Once Morris knows which team selects him, he’ll have to attend rookie mini-camps next week, settle a six-figure contract with a nice signing bonus and even look into buying a house.
All this after one brief flash on television. The goal, of course, is that next time America sees “Morris” on ESPN, it will be on the back of an NFL jersey.
—Staff writer Rahul Rohatgi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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