Center Bryan Morgan is the Blue Devils' conductor

Staff WriterAugust 16, 2010 

— Duke center Bryan Morgan dreams of one day directing a large orchestra.

He's already getting some early experience at it in an unlikely place: the middle of the Blue Devils' offensive line.

"Every time I'm on the football field, I hear music," said Morgan, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound music major who has started 24 straight games for Duke. "It's all about hearing the crowd roar, hearing those cleats, 'click-click-click-click-click,' hearing the hits go 'umph-umph-umph.' Hearing that atmosphere, that's music to my ears."

As the Blue Devils' starting center, Morgan is the one who translates his coaches' blocking calls to teammates before starting each play by snapping the ball to the quarterback.

"I guess you could say I am the conductor," he said, laughing.

Morgan, who hails from Hoover, Ala., started playing football in the seventh grade, but he was playing music before then. His mom tells the story of tiny Bryan humming along to Boyz II Men - in his car seat. He sang in the church choir, started playing clarinet in the fifth grade and got his grandmother to teach him how to play a C-scale on the piano when he was 12.

Music was always in the background at his house growing up, "everything from Mozart to the Monkees," said Bryan's mom, Dr. Joneice Morgan.

Bryan just added to it. By the time he was 13, he had written the music to his first song, "Life of a Warrior." A year later, he was putting his finishing touches on his first symphony, which was 18 minutes long.

"Even as a child, he was always very focused," Joneice Morgan said. "When he does something, he does it completely."

Honing his athletic and musical gifts at the same time hasn't always been easy, though. He was the only student in his high school to play football and take band, and that meant signing up for eight classes instead of seven.

"I always believe ... if you're really passionate about something, you will make it work out. I'm passionate about music, I'm passionate about football, and I make that work."

Especially, he said, because both of his passions complement each other.

"They both take patience, because you're not just going to lift weights one day and wake up and be huge, you've got to be at it every day," he said. "And the same with music ... I want to be a composer, and I can't make up a composition in one day, it's a process.

"They both also take determination; there are going to be some days ... when I might have a bad day in the weight room at practice, and I come home and I can't think of anything [to write]. And you just feel like, 'Wow' ... but you have to know you're going to have some of those days, and you just have to keep at it."

So he does.

Coach David Cutcliffe calls Morgan "without question, one of the more enthusiastic, energetic, talented young people I have ever been around."

The player has to be, with his schedule.

Off the field, Morgan started taking his first real piano lessons this summer (he was previously self-taught). He plays the clarinet in the Duke University Wind Symphony while continuing to work on a performance piece. He also continues to be one of the most-involved athletes on campus in community service projects, and next spring he plans to write a percussion ensemble piece for Raleigh's Cardinal Gibbons High.

Morgan describes his compositions as "mostly" classical, "but I put some hip stuff in there ... that's my style. I'm trying to keep it as modern as possible, keep it fresh as I can."

On the field, meanwhile, he has worked on getting quicker, stronger and smarter. Although a sprained ankle sidelined him for a couple of practices late last week, he participated in Sunday evening's workout and is expected to play in tonight's scrimmage. Morgan remains determined to help conduct his team - which hasn't played in a bowl game since 1994 - back to the postseason. "We've amped up everything ... and we really are aiming to take the next step," he said.

That would be the ultimate music to his ears.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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