Brown: Morgan's unstoppable motor drives Iowa football
IOWA CITY, Ia. – The motor is the great unknown in recruiting.
A prospect can pass the eye test. But how does he perform on the football field when the heat is on? Does he play, as Hayden Fry used to say, with that extra heartbeat? That is the great mystery.
But Reese Morgan has a knack for doing more than kicking the tires. Iowa's defensive line coach also gets under the hood to try and figure out how that motor runs. And he's usually right.
"He has a rare ability to see things in prospects others miss," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "When he's high on a guy, it really gets my attention quickly."
Want proof? If Iowa had a game this week, three of the four starters in the defensive line would be guys who played eight-man football in high school: Drew Ott, Nate Meier and Nathan Bazata.
"You know, football players can come from anywhere and it has nothing to do with whether you're eight-man, nine-man, anything else," Morgan said. "It has everything to do with the type of person you are."
An eye for talent is just part of Morgan's value to the Hawkeye program. He's coached tight ends, the offensive line and now the defensive line. He is, Ferentz will tell you, a tremendous person.
"Secondly, he's a great teacher," Ferentz said. "I would call him a master teacher. Extremely thorough, extremely detailed, and he really connects with anyone he works with."
There's one other thing. His motor continues to run, at 64 years of age. Teach and repeat. It might be on the field, when Morgan will point out a mistake on tape and then see a player do it correctly the next day in practice. Or it might be in the classroom.
"One of our young men told me he got a B+ in a statistics class," Morgan said. "I was so excited about that because he is not a stellar academic student, but he really has been working hard and spending time."
Ferentz considered Morgan, then the coach at Iowa City West, for his first staff in 1999.
"I've made a lot of mistakes in the 16-plus years I've been here," Ferentz said. "Probably one of the biggest ones was not hiring Reese."
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Ferentz got a mulligan a year later, when Pat Flaherty left to join the Washington Redskins' staff. Morgan has been at Iowa ever since, a rock in an ever-changing profession.
When Morgan went to the defensive side of the line before the 2012 season, he took over a position that was hardly a strength. Three seasons later, departing tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat have promising NFL futures.
A Morgan trademark is earning the respect of his players.
"I would say his best attribute is that he never lets us get complacent," Ott said. "He's always got something to critique, something we can get better at. That's what he brings to the table."
Morgan is a coach his players don't want to disappoint.
"You hate to let him down," Ott said. "He's kind of like a parent. He really cares about you. You wouldn't want to let your parent down, so you wouldn't want to let him down."
Replacing Davis, Trinca-Pasat and building depth across the defensive line are on Morgan's to-do list this spring. He goes about it with a motor that keeps going.
"You like doing it because it's not work," Morgan said.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown