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Change is good

Morrell's position changes sparked McDonald

November 7, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle (mwagner@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

After two years of playing wideout, the McDonald coaching staff decided to move Matt Morrell into the backfield.

That move has paid dividends, as the 6-foot, 160-pound senior has helped lead the Blue Devils to a 7-3 mark during the regular season and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, where McDonald will face Kirtland on Friday night.

McDonald coach Dan Williams said he moved Morrell to tailback and wingback as a way to get one of the team's better athletes more touches on the ball.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
McDonald’s Matt Morrell dives into the end zone for a touchdown against Mineral Ridge earlier this season.

"He's gained a lot of speed from running track the past several years," Williams said. "He's an impact player. He's a hard-nosed runner, as well as he has that big-play ability every time he touches the ball."

That combination of tough running and big-play ability has allowed Morrell to become the team's leading rusher with 905 yards and seven touchdowns on 99 attempts, averaging 9.14 yards per carry. Morrell also has grabbed nine receptions for 156 yards out of the backfield.

Whether it's on a sweep, pitch or dive up the middle, Morrell said he tries to take the ball to the house every time he touches it.

"I'd like to (score every run)," Morrell said. "A big run will give us momentum, and it will set up the next play."

His teammates understand Morrell's mentality as a runner and the offensive line especially enjoys blocking for him, said Carson Williams, a senior tackle and the coach's son. They feed off the energy caused by some of his longer runs.

"Every time he gets the ball, I know he's looking for the end zone," Carson said. "It helps our line get motivated, it helps him get motivated."

Morrell's contributions to the team don't end on the offensive side of the ball, as he's a two-year starter at safety for the Blue Devils.

During the regular season, Morrell accrued 67 tackles, the second-highest mark on the team behind linebacker Caleb Dimery (71 tackles). Dan Williams said the senior does a good job reading the offense and directing the secondary in case of passes.

"He adds a lot on the defensive side," Dan said. "He's a two-year starter at safety and does a nice job putting us in the right coverages and also he's a great tackler."

Morrell never seems to come off the field, as he is the team's punter (around 32 to 33 yards per punt according to his coach), as well as one of the kick and punt returners. The senior said he wants to be on the field every single play.

"I don't like coming off (the field)," Morrell said. "I love being out there. Wherever coach puts me, I'm glad to be out there."

With Morrell always on the field, he's become a key leader for the Blue Devils.

Carson said Morrell never lets himself get too far down, and whenever the team is losing in a game, he tries to pick up his teammates.

"He's always keeping his head up," Carson said. "He's never down. Even if we're losing by whatever odd amount, he's upbeat, ready to go, taking on the challenges he needs to take on."

Trying to keep his teammates upbeat against top-seeded Kirtland could prove a tough task. The Hornets finished as runners-up in Division V last season and went 10-0 during the 2013 regular season.

Although McDonald comes into the match as the underdogs, Morrell said he believes in his team.

"I think we have the ability to win," Morrell said. "We should be able to we just need to play our game."