In the shadow of Michigan Stadium, Shane Morris began his senior season rather ingloriously.
The 2013 Michigan quarterback commit led his Warren De La Salle offense onto the turf at Hollway Field looking at a first down at the Ann Arbor Pioneer 23-yard line. Morris and the Pilots elected to go with five wide receivers and an empty backfield, a package readied to showcase Morris, one of the top recruits in the country.
Morris took the shotgun snap, stepped up and slung a dart across the middle of the field looking for a slant pattern. It wasn’t there. Pioneer linebacker Bradley Koenig was.
Koenig pulled the ball in for an interception on Morris’ first pass of the 2012 season. Then, to add insult to interception, as Morris charged toward the sideline to head off Koenig on the return he was railroaded by linebacker Tyler Jackson — and this was nothing short of a true head-over-heels toppling.
It wasn’t a play that will make any highlight reels for the five-star quarterback.
Morris opened the evening with a 2-for-9 passing line before turning things around and boosting De La Salle to an easy 35-7 victory on Friday night. Morris finished the game 14-for-26 passing for 177 yards, two touchdowns and one interception — the initial and only blemish.
De La Salle coach Paul Verska admitted that Morris, who was the victim of a pair of drops and several receptions called back due to penalties, wasn’t given a lot of help in the season opener.
“We didn’t run the right route all night,” Verska said.
There’s pretty significant pressure on the 18-year-old Morris. He committed to coach Brady Hoke and the Michigan football program on May 10, 2011 and just last week earned a five-star ranking from Rivals.com.
That means when Morris throws a pick to start his senior season, he knows he’ll hear about it for a long time to come. But that’s just the type of adversity to fuel a quarterback’s fire.
“He’s a quarterback,” Verska said. “If you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, get out of the kitchen. When he plays at (Michigan) he’s going to have 113,000 critics, plus everybody on TV all across the nation. So he wants that pressure … he thrives on it.”
“If he makes a mistake, he admits it and goes on and gets better. You’ve got to have a short memory if you’re a quarterback.”
Experts don’t see much of a ceiling in sight for the stud quarterback, which means every fan, opponent and coach maintain high expectations when Morris takes the field.
Morris was sacked midway through the third quarter on Friday, stymying his dynamite, gun-slinging second half. As Morris rose and dusted himself off, one fan standing at the top of the bleachers yelled out, ‘Good. Now next time hit ‘im harder.”
Pioneer didn’t get much of a chance — Morris didn’t take a snap at quarterback in the fourth quarter. He did, however, continue his duties at punter. (He boomed a 52-yarder in the first quarter.)
The job of Shane Morris — poster boy of the Michigan recruiting campaign — doesn’t end when he takes his helmet off. With 5:14 remaining in the game, one of the De La Salle coaches pulled Morris back to meet a couple waiting at the fence behind the bench.
He shook hands and started to pull away. With five minutes left in the game, he was stopped by a Michigan fan in a maize sweater who appeared out of nowhere, sticking a football out and asking for the 18-year-old’s signature.
Morris politely declined and hurried back to join his teammates on the sideline.
Five minutes later, the rout was finished and Morris rallied his teammates in the end zone. Once the huddle concluded, the De La Salle coaches quickly shuttled Morris away from the media and onto the team bus.
Two stragglers ran onto the field just a few moments too late.
“Oh, come on,” one said, clad in a Michigan T-shirt. “He doesn’t even have time for an autograph for his favorite Michigan fans?”
Morris was already on the bus. The only one who could answer was an assistant coach, walking along the sideline toward the Hollway Field exit.
“No, he can’t,” the coach replied. “He gets hounded everywhere. We all do.”
A quarter mile away, lights shone down into the Big House. From his seat on the team bus, Morris undoubtedly saw the lights and the the illuminated ‘M’ on the scoreboard. Morris is expected to battle there for the starting quarterback position at Michigan next fall.
Those lights are still a ways off in the distance — it’s hard to remember that sometimes.
In the shadow of Michigan Stadium, Shane Morris is a household figure, and he’s still just a kid.