By Brian Rowitz
Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris has taken the NFL by storm this season and has many people wondering where he came from. For Florida Atlantic fans, they saw Alfred Morris show the traits in college that have helped him become a star at the next level.
Former FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger was criticized at times for his old-fashioned football mind-set, sticking with the pro-style offense that had made him famous before he took over the young program in Boca Raton. For players such as Alfred Morris though, playing in the pro-style offense helped him get a head start on his NFL career.
“Just being on the team because of the offensive style we had is the best possible prep that you can have to go to the National Football League,” says Schnellenberger. “You have to be a great ball carrier, and know how to handle the ball and how to run with the football and you also have to be an all-around back. That’s why he is further ahead and his running style is conducive to the style they run [with the Redskins].”
Morris, who was drafted in the 6th round by Washington, set the Redskins single-season rushing record this season. He shared Schnellenberger’s sentiment about how FAU prepared him for NFL life when he joined the FAU Radio Network in September.
“It prepared me hugely. A lot of teams go to this spread offense nowadays but we stuck to that I-offense, so that definitely helped prepare me for the next level. Running those plays and getting used to those steps and the timing of everything and furthering my skills.”
Morris and the Redskins won the NFC East for the first time since 1999 on Sunday night, a place very few thought was possible during training camp. There weren’t many expectations for Washington, and there were even fewer for Morris. He entered camp behind at least 3 other running back’s but had faith that he’d be able to impress the coaching staff, including head coach Mike Shanahan.
“No doubt ever entered my mind,” said Morris. “I knew what I had to do and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
“I have been an underdog my whole life and everything I’ve gotten I had to work for and it was earned, nothing was ever given to me. I just kept telling myself ‘just wait for your opportunity’, just like I did at FAU and that opportunity came a lot sooner than I expected.”
That “underdog” role is a familiar to Florida Atlantic football.
Because of its status as a low-level Division I school, FAU is forced to play “money games” against big-name opponents, helping the school earn a hefty pay-check, usually accompanied by a sizeable beatdown. Schnellenberger called them “advanced training” games. Former Florida Atlantic RB coach Dave Serna saw those games as a chance for Morris to prove himself.
“It’s something that prepared him just because of some of the strength and size of some of those teams,” says Serna. “Also, from an evaluation perspective, because those scouts are going to go to those games first and see how he plays against that NFL-caliber talent.”
Morris played in eight games against BCS teams and had 129 carries for 452 yards with a touchdown. He also added 4 receptions for 43 yards and a score. Morris said his favorite memory from the matchups against the “big boys” was in 2009 at Nebraska, his first career start. He ran against eventual Heisman Trophy candidate Ndamukong Suh and knew what a great opportunity it was to play a national juggernaut.
“It definitely helps getting to face the best talent out there and being able to say, ‘I belong here and I can do this’ when you start performing and making plays on these teams when you’re not supposed to.”
“It’s a confidence builder and helps you get noticed because a lot of scouts look at these big schools and when you go out there and put up these big numbers or do some things that scouts like against these big schools it gets you noticed.”
One of Morris’ biggest fans has been the man that started the path of Owls to the NFL, current Titans QB Rusty Smith, who was the program’s first ever draft pick in 2010.
“It makes me super proud. I’m very happy to see four guys on active rosters across the NFL from Florida Atlantic,” says Smith, referring to not only himself and Morris, but Houston Texans WR Lestar Jean and Arizona Cardinals TE Rob Housler as well.
“To see Fred surpass 1,000 yards with four games left in his rookie season, it’s incredible. I really hope it’s just the beginning.”
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