UNC's Morris has banner day in Louisville loss

Redshirt responds to Bernard injury with breakout performance

acarter@newsobserver.comSeptember 19, 2012 

— After he won the second of consecutive state championships in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at Salisbury High, Romar Morris received a day in his honor in Rowan County. It’s June 1. There was no parade or large celebration. But there was cake, at least.

“They basically took me to the mayor’s office and basically just gave me a cake and all that stuff,” said Morris, a redshirt freshman running back at North Carolina. “And gave me a proclamation. It’s hanging up on my wall right now, actually, in my room.”

Morris arrived in college already with a day named after him. But he had to wait for his time to come at North Carolina, where he spent his first season sitting out – watching, waiting and learning. Now, though, it seems Morris’ time has arrived.

He earned one of the ACC’s player of the week honors for his performance Saturday at Louisville, where during the Tar Heels’ 39-34 loss he caught five passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 23 yards and blocked a punt that sparked North Carolina’s fourth-quarter rally.

“You can honestly say that he single-handedly kept us in that game,” quarterback Bryn Renner said. “With the blocked punt that was huge, and then he took that (pass) about 50 yards for a touchdown. So it was unbelievable what he did on Saturday.”

There were plenty of low points for the Tar Heels during that defeat against the Cardinals, who built a 36-7 halftime lead. But Morris’ play was the unquestioned bright spot, in addition to the overall character North Carolina displayed during the second half.

Morris arrived at North Carolina as one of the top prospects in the state, according to recruiting services. Rivals.com considered him to be among the top 15 running backs in the nation during his senior year at Salisbury.

Then came the start of the 2011 season. One game passed without Morris playing. Then another.

“At first I didn’t know (my status),” he said. “But then towards the first couple of games, I started figuring out I’ll probably redshirt. But just took it as a learning experience because I knew Ryan Houston, A.J. Blue and Gio (Bernard) was all in front of me.”

Even after a productive spring, in which he scored three touchdowns during the spring scrimmage, Morris entered this season again looking up at those ahead of him on depth chart. There was Bernard, who set a Tar Heels freshman rushing record last season. And Blue, a former quarterback turned running back.

But when Bernard suffered a knee injury against Elon during the 62-0 season-opening victory, it threw the backfield into flux. Bernard hasn’t played since, and Morris has proven to be North Carolina’s most dangerous playmaker out of the backfield.

“People have seen what happens when you get 21 in space,” running backs coach Randy Jordan said, referring to Morris by his jersey number. “It only takes about one or two guys to make a bad angle on him, take a bad angle, he can take it 60, 70 (yards) – anywhere on the field.”

Jordan, who spent nine seasons in the NFL, wore the same number when he played running back at North Carolina from 1988 to 1992. Sometimes he kids Morris that he’s not as fast as his coach once was.

Jordan has shared his running times with Morris, who smiled and said, “I think I would have got him.”

Jordan might not argue. He has been impressed by Morris’ physical skills and how he approaches the game mentally.

“Some kids memorize plays,” Jordan said. “He wants to know, OK, if I’m running this pull route, how does it affect the receiver on the outside? Those are the type of questions that we’re looking for.

“He has great potential, and once that potential matches up in his brain in terms of the game slowing down, he can be a pretty good back for us.”

After just his third college game, Morris might have proven to be that much already. He hasn’t earned his own day at North Carolina, but after a year-long wait his time has come.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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