When DeShawn Morrison walks onto the football field on Friday night, he rarely comes off until the game is over.
With his obvious talent, it’s easy to see why.
The junior running back has catapulted the Central Academy of Technology and Arts’ (CATA) football program onto the county scene this year. Despite their mediocre 3-3 record, the Cougars continue to impress even through losses, largely due to Morrison’s versatility and ability to make plays both on offense and as a starting outside linebacker on defense. In the first five games of the season, Morrison averaged 104 rushing yards and also garnered double-digit tackles in each contest.
In Week 2, Morrison rushed for 142 yards and put up two touchdowns against Highland School of Technology, contributing to the 33-6 win. The next week, he had a career best 149 yards against Union Academy. But his ability doesn’t stop there – he’s averaging 12.6 tackles per game and has already racked up seven sacks.
For Morrison, his success on the field is all about visualization.
“I imagine what I’m going to do on the field. It helps a lot to think about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to do it, and envision myself out there,” Morrison said. “Coach (Tad Baucom) always says on Thursday night to envision yourself running into the end zone or picking up that fumble.”
His dexterity on offense is an integral part of CATA’s running game. Morrison has rushed for 552 yards, but even more impressive is his ability to fight through defenders often much bigger than his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame.
Take for example the game against Metrolina Christian on Sept. 20. The Cougars trailed 7-6 moments before the half. Morrison got the ball on fourth-and-goal from the three-yard line. Three Metrolina Christian defenders wrapped Morrison up at the two-yard line, but it wasn’t enough to stop him. Morrison carried the three opponents into the end zone to make the score 13-7 before the half.
“There was so much enthusiasm going into halftime,” said Baucom, now in his third season at CATA after previous coaching stints at Topsail and Monroe. “(The other players) see a never-say-die attitude in him.”
Behind Morrison, the Cougars went on to beat Metrolina Christian, 16-13.
It’s that kind of determination that has helped the Cougars improve drastically from their 2-10 record last season. As a sophomore, Morrison put up 315 rushing yards on the season, but the tough beatings helped the young athlete learn how to lead his teammates on the field.
“He buckles up and goes out there to make plays and he tells his teammates, ‘I’m going to make plays, let’s all make plays,’” Baucom said. “You’ve got leaders, and then you’ve got leaders who lead by example. He’s actually a good blend of both. He’s vocal and at the same time he leads by example.”
Morrison and his teammates put in the work to make sure they don’t succumb to the hardships of the prior year this season, Baucom said.
“DeShawn’s class as sophomores last year worked really hard in the spring and in the offseason,” Baucum said. “They’re committed and that’s showing. They’ve matured a lot this year, and haven’t really been out of many games. That maturity factor, plus the fact that they want to be the best team to ever come through this program… it’s paying off.”
Their 3-3 record isn’t indicative of the fight the Cougars have put up against some of their opponents. In the season opener against North Stanly, for example, the Cougars missed two field goal opportunities in the first quarter, but stopped the Comet offense, leaving the game scoreless well into the fourth quarter. Despite their efforts, the Cougars gave up two late touchdowns and fell, 14-0.
In a heartbreaking 17-7 loss to Piedmont last week, CATA’s defense gave up just two first downs in the first half but a safety and fumble recovery for a touchdown cost them the game.
Things are about to heat up for CATA as Rocky River 2A conference play begins next week. The Cougars, who opened their doors in 2006, have gone just 4-36 in conference play since 2007, but during the grueling conference schedule will look to Morrison to provide the leadership necessary to compete against tougher opponents in the conference – including Monroe, Parkwood and Mount Pleasant.
Baucom said their schedule this year has been a little more “user friendly” than previous seasons, but the team still remains smaller physically than upcoming opponents. This week, the Cougars have a bye to prep for their Oct. 11 game against Monroe (4-2) – a team CATA is 0-6 against in their brief existence.
Both Baucum and Morrison are convinced that the Cougars have what it takes to make this season their best yet, even with the upcoming challenges. A large part of that confidence comes from the support and camaraderie among the players and coaches.
“We’ve had three years to get to know each other, and build some good relationships on the team,” Baucom said.
The coach initiated what has become known on his team as “encouragement cards” where the players can sign up to receive inspirational scriptures and quotes on an index card before a big game.
“We get involved in their lives as much as they want us (to),” Baucum said. “We’re really getting pretty tight. That’s something I pride myself in. I like to be close, and not only care about the football part, but about the player.”
The unity on the CATA team is evident. Baucom’s mother died a few weeks ago, and the Cougars pulled together in an unprecedented way. When Baucom showed up at the Sept. 20 game against South Stanly after being away for the funeral, the boys crushed the Bulls with a 35-3 victory behind Morrison, who had eight carries for 124-yards and six tackles.
“They played out of their minds that game,” Baucom said. “I think that’s because they know we care not only about football success, but we care about them.”
For now, Morrison is focused on a strong finish to his junior year and looking to get even better for his senior season. He hopes to get some attention at the collegiate level, and receive a scholarship to play at the school of his choice.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” Morrison said. “The Lord has given me this talent and the ability to do things so I need to go out there and show it.
“I need to go out on the field and show what I am capable of. I need to work hard on the field, in school, in the weight room, and at practice.”