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Thursday, April 2, 2009
Undersized Duke lineman compensates with skill

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There is an undersized, 250-pound center in the ACC who can play the clarinet and the piano, has been composing music since he was 12, and does not fear lining up nose-to-nose against defensive linemen who have 50-100 pounds on him.

Bryan Morgan started every game for Duke last year, and this spring, with three starters gone to graduation, he is the most experienced player on the Blue Devils' offensive line.

 
  Duke Sports Information
  Center Bryan Morgan has had to overcome being undersized his entire playing career.

"You ever hear the saying it ain't the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog?" quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said. "That's what happens when he goes out there on the field. He's a veteran guy, he's making calls, getting the line in the right situation. He might be 250 pushing it, but he's a strong kid, very talented, very fundamentally sound, which gives him the edge against bigger guys we actually play against."

Morgan, of Hoover, Ala., came to Duke around 238, 240 pounds. Since then, the junior has been on a "see-food" diet (he sees it, he eats it). Morgan said strength and conditioning coach Noel Durfey has basically given him free rein to eat anything and everything.

"The one word he tells me is calories," Morgan said. "Calories, calories, calories. I've gained 14 pounds this winter. It's working, so I'm not going to stop."

Morgan doesn't just order a burger -- he gets it with an extra patty, extra bacon, cheese, fries, a drink, and a milkshake.

"I have to make sure I finish everything on my plate," he said.

It's one of his four or five meals a day, which usually includes a light breakfast before practice, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then usually two bowls of cereal or a PBJ before bed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he has three classes back-to-back, he packs trail mix or another high-calorie snack.

And his classes aren't just any classes. Morgan is a music major, and his dream is to be a composer or a conductor. He's trying to get some connections with the North Carolina Symphony, and maybe even one day compose music for movies. He has a computer program to help him compose, and is in his first music theory class.

"My music is sounding more mature," he said. "I'm working on some orchestrations hopefully I'll finish in the summer."

He's been fighting his size his entire playing career, but football is in his genes -- his father was an offensive lineman at Alabama A&M and was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

"It's paramount for me to go out there and show 'em what I have," Morgan said. "I know I can do it. Since I'm smaller than most offensive linemen I really have to hone in on my skills. I can never take a play off or it will show drastically because I'm undersized. If I'm not careful they can throw me around because I'm on the light side."

Of course, there's always a way to win.

"Oh, the game is all about leverage," he said. "I try to get under their pads every play."

It hasn't always worked. Last year was Morgan's first full season as a starter at center after moving from tackle in the spring of 2008. In 2007, when he got in the game for 54 snaps at Virginia as a true freshman tackle, Morgan got up close and personal with former Virginia defensive end Chris Long.

"Chris Long was probably the best player I've played against," Morgan said. "He was quick, and the biggest guy I've gone against. That definitely wasn't my best game at all. But I really studied that tape on that day and said I've really got to work because that is what I'm going to be going against every game. I always keep that in the back of my mind. I don't want that to happen again."

Morgan has improved drastically since that game, and said it's like "night and day" from last year now that he's had a full season to adjust to his new position. Last season, Duke's offensive line helped reduce the team's sacks allowed total from 45 in 2007 to just 22 in 2008.

"Bryan's a special guy, No. 1 because of his size," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "He's always been told he's too small, and last year I don't think he missed a snap. Because of his size limitations, he's had to overcome that with knowledge and work ethic, and so when you put that together with experience, it helps him be the leader of that unit and get everybody on the same page."

Not only are Morgan's looks deceiving, but the coaching staff has encouraged other players to watch him.

"Coach Durfey says watch his body demeanor, and if you're down and you feel like you're tired, just look at that guy right there next to you," Lewis said. "Bryan, he's going to show you the definition of a football player and how you should carry yourself."

All 250 pounds of him.