Holding His Own

by Justin Long, Co-Director of Sports Information

If you told head coach E.J. Mills before the 2007 season that Rick Morgan ’11 would be the leader of Amherst’s offensive line someday, he probably would have called you crazy.

No offense to Morgan, of course, but his road wasn’t supposed to lead him to where he is today. When he arrived at Amherst more than three years ago he was a 195-pound kid without a position. Every year, each incoming freshman is supposed to receive a phone call from his position coach prior to check-in day. Morgan never received that call. He had no idea what to expect when he got to campus.

After Amherst’s first meeting of 2007, Mills told Morgan the scout team needed a center. It wasn’t glamorous, but he embraced his new role. “I was actually relieved,” says Morgan, who played center at University School in Cleveland, Ohio. “I was worried I’d have to learn a new position.”

Morgan was willing to jump right in, but there was still a big problem. To say he didn’t weigh enough to be a center would be like saying the New York Yankees have too much money to file for bankruptcy. Or, as former offensive lineman Sam Rudman ’09 so delicately puts it, “Ricky wasn’t even a run-of-the-mill fat dude like most bad freshman offensive linemen are. Ricky was just a run-of-the-mill dude who happened to play offensive line, which is even worse.” (It might not sound like it, but Rudman and Morgan were great friends at Amherst and still keep in touch.) 

In the first weeks of practice that year, Morgan was going up against Amherst’s starting nose guard, Greg Smith ’09, who weighed 270 pounds. “I was terrified of Greg,” Morgan recalls. “He was massive. But getting thrown into the mix like that really helped. I was exposed to a high level of competition, so I got the nerves out of the way early.”

Mills says he didn’t notice Morgan until probably the fifth week of practice. If you’re not drawing attention to yourself on the scout team, it also means you aren’t messing up and slowing things down. Not only was Morgan not slowing the team down, but he was hanging with Smith every day despite being out-weighed by 70 pounds. “Watching Rick at practice, you realized what he was made of,” says Mills. “You knew he was going to play hard for you every day.”

Rick Morgan '11 went from being a 195-pound kid without a position to the leader of Amherst's offensive line.

Still, if he was going to survive his first year of collegiate football, Morgan would need to gain weight in a hurry. He ate whenever he could, hit the gym hard and was aided by a growth spurt. Rather than coming up with a goal weight, he simply took it day by day. “I figured, ‘I’ll end up where I end up.’ If you told me off the bat I would have to weigh 260 pounds, I would have said ‘no way.’”

Morgan was put through a gauntlet as a freshman, but he made it out alive. He began the 2008 season at roughly 225 pounds and started to play more of a role. Rudman remembers how hard Morgan worked during his sophomore year. “When young guys first get a chance to play, it’s natural for older guys to worry whether or not they're ready to step in. We never had to worry about Ricky. He was always on the same page as everyone else. He had clearly been working hard to prepare.”

The hard work has paid off. Now a left guard, Morgan has started in each of the team’s past 11 games. He is the offensive line’s most versatile player, and during games he has been able to seamlessly change positions when necessary. He leads a unit that is on pace to allow the fewest sacks in the NESCAC for a third consecutive year.

Morgan has to be technically sound because his size disadvantage puts his back against the wall each game. Sometimes the size difference is comical. He recalls one game last year in which an opposing defensive lineman weighed 290 pounds. “That’s when you have to stick to intelligence and technique,” Morgan says. “I just try not to think about the size of the guy across from me. Otherwise, I’ll try to do too much.”

Morgan has proven he can hold his own, but offensive line coach Matt Ballard still makes him weigh in every other day (other linemen don’t have to weigh in nearly as often). “He caught me losing weight one time, and that was that.” These days Morgan checks in at roughly 245 pounds, well below the offensive line’s average.

A lot of guys in Morgan’s position wouldn’t have made it past freshman year, but he stuck it out to become one of the biggest surprises on the team. “Rick has the team’s respect because he worked so hard to get where he is,” Mills says. “As a coach you naturally root for certain guys. He wanted it so bad, and you could see him progress mentally and physically. He exceeded all expectations.”

Rudman says he always knew Morgan would be successful. “I started to realize Ricky could be a good offensive lineman when I lived with him during his sophomore year. He consistently had the most disgusting room in the house. It was a legitimate cause for concern. The sort of kid who can sleep in a room like that is the same sort of kid who can stick it out as a 195-pound freshman on the scout team and turn into a good offensive lineman.”

In all seriousness, Rudman has always thought highly of his former roommate. “Ricky was always the sort of guy everyone wanted to be around. He’s a genuinely great human being, he’s funny, he’s a hard worker and a good teammate. I don’t really know what else you can ask of a guy.”

Morgan has only five more weeks of keeping his weight up. Only five more weeks of being hounded by Ballard and out-sized by the opposition. After that he can go back to being that 195-pound kid who arrived on campus three years ago. Until then he’ll keep holding his own, no matter who he lines up against.