Sophomore LB makes strides

Morgan takes his father's teachings, goes further than mentor saw coming

Updated: August 28, 2012, 10:06 AM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Shortly after Desmond Morgan learned to walk he learned how to make someone else fall down.

Such is life as the son of a football fanatic. Scott Morgan is a former coach and administrator who started teaching his son the fundamentals of the game extremely early in life.

He also was a college linebacker at Ferris State. His son would end up being one, too, at Michigan. It was part out of love and part out of protection that Scott began teaching his son the game. If Desmond wanted to play, he wanted him to be taught correctly, both for his skill set and to offer a small layer of protection in a fairly violent sport.

The result was a tiny Desmond running at his father every night before bed until he was old enough where it would actually hurt.

"He would just kind of absorb it," Desmond said. "Go back into the wall and he'd give me a hug. I'd always try to hit him and give it everything I had. I carried it over into football."

This was the beginning of the bond between father and son, the beginning of a relationship forged through tape-watching and critiquing, through coaching and then learning to let go and become a father rooting for his boy.

Taking it slow

Although Scott prepared his son for this moment since he started walking, Desmond Morgan actually was held out of football for a year. His mother expressed concern for her son in second grade, so Desmond played soccer instead.

[+] EnlargeMorgan
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIDesmond Morgan got his first career start last season in his second career game, starting Michigan's victory over Notre Dame.
The next season, he was on the field in tiny Grant, Mich., with Scott as his coach and everything coming fairly naturally to him. Even after the family moved to Holland, Mich., dad kept coaching and son kept playing, eating up his father's words. He loved how his father explained the nuances of football to him.

Scott made sure to teach him proper tackling form. He had watched too many others suffer terrible injuries because of the way they hit.

"I never wanted that to happen to Desmond, obviously, and wanted to make sure he always put his face in the other guy's chest and always has his helmet on the upside of the ball," Scott said. "Carry his body and hips through it along with his arms and make sure his feet kept going and that he picked him up and then put him down."

Learning this form helped in other sports, too. He also played soccer, lacrosse and one other sport that kept his interest until Michigan offered a football scholarship: Hockey.

Naturally, the boy who liked to hit became a hard-checking defenseman with a knack for finding the puck in transition and on offense at the right time. As good as Desmond was at football, even Scott felt eventually hockey would win out, especially after coaches moved Desmond from defense to forward later in his career.

After an MVP trophy in a tournament when he was no more than 10 years old, Scott realized the son he taught to tackle could play almost any sport he wanted.

"I sat back and realized this kid has a lot of gifts and a lot of skill," Scott said. "Maybe he wants to go a little bit further than where I went."

Desmond and his stepbrother, Dexter Kruithoff, took hockey seriously enough that on the Morgan family refrigerator are two pictures -- one of the brothers picking up their medals from the tournament where Desmond won MVP and another from when they played together in high school, their junior year, in almost identical poses.

Desmond, though, always loved football. Once his offer from Michigan came, he checked hockey into the boards. Big-time football was coming. Neither Desmond nor Scott knew how fast.

Poker face

Scott's lessons showed up again at an unlikely time. Having watched his son over and over again, he couldn't believe what he saw. He never expected to find it sitting in the stands before the second game of Desmond's Michigan career.

Dad was being dad, happy his kid was receiving a full scholarship and a chance to eventually play. But watching Desmond warm up against Notre Dame last season, he saw some familiar things. Teammates were coming over to him, trying to offer encouragement.

Meanwhile, Desmond tried to escape. So many Michigan players dream of running out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel into a wall of noise from 110,000 screaming fans. Desmond, meanwhile, tried to burrow himself inside what Scott and Desmond call "the tunnel," where all of those 110,000 voices would be reduced to a singular one.

"That takes a lot of getting used to," said Desmond, who said things began to slow down for him midway through his freshman season in 2011.

Scott saw the look and knew he taught Desmond well. His lessons and willingness to travel from camp to camp to have Desmond be seen and instructed by coaches led to a Michigan offer and his son being in this position. Yet he couldn't quite believe it.

See, Scott taught Desmond something else. He taught him to never reveal anything coaches say to him, anything that goes on inside the locker room. On this week, it also meant son kept a secret from dad, one Scott didn't figure out until warmups.

Desmond would be starting at linebacker that night, two games into his college career.

"I recognized some things that were going on and when the defense came out the first series and he came out, I said, 'Holy cow!' I used an expletive," Scott said. "My heart went into my throat. I was shedding a tear that I was trying to hide from everyone sitting around me.

"I said I can't believe he is going to start this game."

That night spun too fast for Desmond. The enormity of playing in front of that many people on that big of a stage was a little too much. It took half of last season for it to calm down.

Desmond knew he made some mistakes. So after the game ended and his first college start at outside linebacker concluded, he went back to his dorm room with his father until the early morning hours.

"Desmond will still call Scott, even after the biggest game, like what do you think? They still go through it, even now," said Cheryl Morgan, Desmond's stepmother. "They still are like, 'Well, you did well. In that fourth quarter, there's still that little bit.' Desmond always loves to have Scott's approval or he appreciates even the disapproval and what to do differently.

"He still gets that no matter how old he is he still looks to that advice or critiquing."

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter