By Matthew Yoder
It wasn’t a football season most anticipated at Hampden Sydney College. Standout wide receiver and Shore native Major Morgan entered as a preseason All-American, and the thought was the Tigers would compete for a championship.
Outside of Tiger nation, the anticipation was the same, and the preparation thus took shape. For the many coaches and defenders who suffered through seasons of dominance by Morgan, the game plan became simple, stop Morgan at all cost, and hopefully leave the field victorious.
When looking strictly at the record, 2019 was a lost season for Morgan and the Tigers. But behind the scenes, something larger than statistics took shape. Admiration and respect for his determination, not only from his own coaches, but also from those same coaches and coordinators who sought to curtail his gains, coalesced with the exploits of previous seasons. Despite all the attention on the field, Morgan still posted solid numbers and earned consecutive honors from the Touchdown Club of Richmond, as the state Small College Receiver of the Year.
If in his junior year he was rewarded for his numbers, in his senior year the focus was largely on the details of character.
Daryl Grose is the receivers coach at Hampden Sydney. In his 24 years of coaching, Grose has assisted in the development of seven All-Americans, and undoubtedly Morgan will always hold a unique place in his heart. With raw enthusiasm, Grose repeatedly described Morgan in transcendent terms, as an individual embodying a true competitiveness and work ethic, a leader, deserving of all the praise he’s gained along the way.
“His maturity as a leader was impressive, and with regard to the business of making things happen from practice to gameday, second to none,” said Grose.
Grose commented how it could not be overstated the level to which Morgan consumed the game plan of defenses each and every week.
“This past year he was a marked man like I’ve never seen before,” said Grose.
But as Morgan’s production suffered through isolation in defensive schemes, being routinely double-teamed, he kept his head high and tempered the mood in the locker room accordingly.
“When the results aren’t there, how are you managing the competitive process, that’s when his leadership kicked in, he was dynamic, he influenced the room,” Grose said.
For Morgan, that maturity has been a completely organic process, and dates back to his days on the Shore, from being raised by his mother, spending time on the Western Shore and his years at Broadwater Academy.
Genevieve Walker is Morgan’s mother, and more tuned in spiritually to his maturation and the process by which he has gotten to the point he is now than anybody.
Walker speaks of her son’s past candidly, not with rose-colored
glasses but the refreshing honesty of a caring mother.
In adolescence, Morgan was not immune to trouble. Walker shouldered the load of a precocious child.
“He showed me that I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be. I have very open eyes of his strengths and weaknesses,” Walker said.
Walker also described the tremendous influence Morgan’s stepfather, Mark Switzer, provided in his life. Switzer was a police officer and was instrumental in teaching Morgan discipline in a positive, respectful manner.
“It was a good year for him to learn how to keep your group motivated because people are watching from the sidelines to see how you’re handling it. He really got it; he’s not only a great player but a great person,” Walker said.
Morgan has spent much of his life on the Shore, hunting and fishing, growing very fond of his home, but left during some formative years for boarding school in Christchurch; important years, Walker believes, to his growth. Morgan returned for his final two years of high school at Broadwater Academy, much to the delight of those at Broadwater, not least of whom was Athletic Director Ron Anson.
“We hated to see him go and loved to see him come back,” said Anson.
Morgan returned to compete alongside his friends in basketball, track and field, and football, where he garnered all-state receiver honors in both 2014 and ’15.
Morgan was more than just a great athlete; Anson acknowledged his stewardship to the school as well.
“He was always a hard worker with anything he did, he was always there for the school,” Anson said.
Despite his success at Broadwater, when Morgan left, football was not initially the focal point of his collegiate experience.
“I was halfway about football, then I started making plays and enjoying it, I really started having a lot of success,” Morgan said.
That success culminated in an honor-filled 2018, a year in which Morgan grabbed 81 catches for 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns. Despite the loss of quarterback, Alec Cobb, expectations would still abound for 2019.
“We had the guys, we couldn’t figure out how to get things going, it was tough week in and week out, but you still have to be a leader. You can’t shut down,” said Morgan.
Across the board, Morgan’s leadership was acknowledged by his peers and family, and he still managed to catch 74 balls for 886 yards, ending his time at Hampden Sydney fourth in career receptions and yards.
Morgan’s story is far from over though, and one chapter folds to another. When Morgan pivoted to a real connection with the game of football, he also started to imagine an ascension to the greatest level of the game, a career in the NFL.
These days Morgan is training relentlessly with that goal in mind. Four days a week, Morgan travels to Richmond between classes to train with Shane Sykes. Under Sykes’ watchful eye, Morgan is honing in on one particular skill, often a benchmark of NFL scouts.
“The biggest thing is my 40-yard dash, that’s what we’re drilling on,” said Morgan.
Morgan describes himself as big and lanky with good hands, attributes of any good receiver, but admits, though his speed is solid, it never hurts to set yourself apart at combines with a strong 40-yard dash number.
In addition, Morgan is training with an NFL defender, Deshaun Amos of the Green Bay Packers, to familiarize himself with the speed of the pro game.
“It’s good to try and catch up with him,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s efforts will soon have a venue. Later this month, Morgan will be participating in the National Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, an invitation-only event. Morgan, too, has secured an agent and spoke of the process of locating one, having linked to a webpage that agents can access. Here, athletes submit answers to a lengthy questionnaire, helping interested agents decipher a person’s character through a series of hypothetical situations.
“They are trying to pull out what kind of person you are,” said Morgan.
An agent reached out to Morgan, likening him to a player currently on his rolls, Thomas Ives, who joined with the Chicago Bears as an unsigned free agent.
Agents take on the risk with any client, seeking the reward of a percentage of an athlete’s contact upon being signed. Morgan admits the risk for an agent is particularly greater with a division three athlete, as the time invested does not always yield the desired result. Morgan is both educated and focused, however, and appears to know what he is getting into, citing players like Dan Arnold or Adam Thielen, a proven receiver, who have taken similar routes from smaller schools.
“I’ve done my research, I’m looking forward to getting a chance,” said Morgan.
Coach Grose sees Morgan taking an effective path.
“He’s always had the intangibles, now he just needs to work his trade to sharpen his sword,” said Grose. “I think what he decided to do to shape himself as a leader will carry him through life. He is a special person; he is destined to make special things happen.”
Morgan’s beloved Eastern Shore, too, is paying attention. Walker is attuned, having lived here her entire life.
“The support from the community is incredible. Through the good and bad, there’s a lot of Shore pride; people thinking, ‘he’s our boy now,’” said Walker.
Walker addressed the challenges Shore athletes face to scale the ladder of professional success, speaking then to the nature of the will of such individuals.
“It’s interesting when athletes make it from the Shore, the resources here are so limited, when somebody is able to find success it is even more impressive,” Walker said.
Walker trusts the process is a mix of preparation and some higher force joining harmoniously.
“I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason, dedication, talent and the cards lining up, he always has had a soft side for the underdog, he is himself an underdog and can’t be counted out, I’m super proud of him,” Walker said.