When the quarterback position gets talked about around water coolers in Huntington, West Virginia, plenty of names pop up: Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwhich, Tony Peterson, and current star Rakeem Cato. Bernard Morris’ name only comes up when folks talk about the “what ifs.”
What if Stan Hill had never gotten injured? What if Jimmy Skinner didn’t throw that pick against Kansas State? What if Bernard Morris ever reached his potential?
In a way, that last question can finally be answered. Morris, who has his Jacksonville Sharks in the Arena League’s American Conference championship game, has begun to display the talent that many knew he had bottled up inside him.
The process of tapping into that talent really started his senior year at Marshall where Morris enjoyed his best statistical season. He threw for over 3,000 yards and posted the highest efficiency for a Herd quarterback from 2004 until Cato’s breakout 2012 season.
Still the team posted a 3-9 record, including an embarrassing loss to FCS opponent New Hampshire. Many fans were left wondering what could have been if Morris had blossomed sooner — or if the coaches had handled his development differently.
Morris came to Marshall as part of one of Bob Pruett’s final recruiting classes, he also came in with a great deal of expectations. The Herd had grown accustomed to good quarterback play and even though injuries had limited Hill (Morris predecessor), fans believed Morris could be the next great Marshall quarterback.
This season Morris threw for 2,746 yards (tenth in the AFL), and completed 65.2 percent of his passes (tied for fourth in the AFL) all while missing three games due to injury.
Morris also has established himself as one of the biggest dual threats in the league rushing for 306 yards (third in the AFL) and 11 scores.
Those 306 yards on the ground also put Morris in rare company in the AFL history books. Only 10 other players have managed to rush for over 200 yards in two or more seasons.
Over his four-year career in the AFL, Morris has thrown for nearly 9,000 yards and has scored a combined 212 touchdowns, including three scores as a receiver. Morris’ versatility as an athlete has made him perfect for the Arena League style. In 2013, he led the Jacksonville Sharks to a fourth straight division title (second with Morris as QB). As the 2013 playoffs kick off, Morris has the Sharks looking for an Arena Bowl championship.
He and his teammates took their first step toward that goal with a 69-62 win over the Tampa Bay Storm in the first round of the AFL playoffs. In that game, Morris had to lead the Sharks back from a 21-point deficit late in the 3rd quarter.
Morris put on a clinic in guiding the Sharks to the come-from-behind win, going 28-37 for 266 yards and 6 touchdowns. His most impressive plays may have come with his feet however, rushing five times for 72 yards and another score. That score was the most electrifying play of the game.
On a long third down and trailing by seven, Morris took the snap and faded back, he found no open receivers and the Storm defensive front was closing in. Instead of panicking, Morris calmly tucked the ball and headed up field. He administered a bruising stiff arm to a Storm defender, then out ran everyone else to the endzone. The play knotted the game up at 55 and signaled the turning momentum the Sharks would ride to a huge playoff win.
Morris is finally looking like the player he showed flashes of being in Huntington. Hopefully, Herd fans recognize that and in return, can bestow upon him the pride they have for so many of Marshall’s other sons.
(Update: The Philadelphia Soul defeated the Jacksonville Sharks 75-59 to advance to the Arena Bowl. Morris finished 31-49 for 416 yards and eight TDs in the defeat.)