Quarterback Shane Morris will be instrumental to the Michigan Wolverines’ chances of victory when they take on the Kansas State Wildcats in the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 (10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN).
But more than that, the true freshman will be just a kid living out his childhood dream.
“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to start at quarterback for the University of Michigan,” Morris said, via The Detroit Free Press’ Mark Snyder. “I grew up in Michigan. I have baby pictures of me in Michigan jerseys. It’s really cool.”
The Warren, Mich., native was thrust into the spotlight when it was announced that starting quarterback Devin Gardner was ruled out after breaking his foot against Ohio State in the season finale, via CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman (h/t Tom Fornelli).
Now, Morris is set to become the first true freshman to start for Michigan since Tate Forcier in 2009.
But unlike Forcier—6-9 career record as a starter—there are much higher expectations for Morris.
Regardless, Morris has already showcased the qualities of a true leader.
Even before stepping on campus, he was a vocal leader for the Wolverines, helping the team draw in top recruits via social media. One of those players successfully brought in by Morris was 4-star running back/safety Dymonte Thomas.
Now, expect Morris to bring that leadership to the field, where he will be playing with a group of players whose experience trumps that of his.
One of those veteran players—fifth-year senior tackle Taylor Lewan—has already noticed some maturation in Morris.
“It’s almost been day and night,” Lewan said, via Mlive.com’s Nick Baumgardner. “(It feels like) he’s been committed to the university (since I was a freshman). I’ve gotten the opportunity to be around him (a lot), and (watched him change from) this guy that’s worried about Twitter followers, to a guy who could truly care less.”
Furthermore, Morris has shown the potential to back up the hype on the field.
Don’t be fooled by his stats in limited playing time during the 2013 season—65 yards and one interception on 5-of-9 passing. Morris can definitely play.
During 2012’s Elite 11 summer camp, Morris shined. He earned the gold jersey for winning the accuracy contest with his pinpoint precision passing and showcased his arm strength. Rivals’ Mike Farrell was so impressed with Morris that he ranked him No. 1 among the 11 quarterbacks participating.
It all adds up to give him a great shot at topping the performances of some of the former Michigan quarterbacks in their first-ever starts:
|Michigan QB's Performance in 1st Start Since 2004|
|Devin Gardner (2012)||12-18||234||2-1||W 35-13 at Minnesota|
|Denard Robinson (2010)||19-22||186||1-0||W 30-10 vs. Connecticut|
|Tate Forcier (2009)||13-20||179||3-0||W 31-7 vs. Western Michigan|
|Steven Threet (2008)||6-13||63||1-0||W 16-6 vs. Miami (OH)|
|Nick Sheridan (2008)||11-19||98||1-1||L 25-23 vs. Utah|
|Ryan Mallett (2007)||7-15||90||3-0||W 38-0 vs. Notre Dame|
|Chad Henne (2004)||14-24||142||2-1||W 43-0 vs. Miami (OH)|
Interestingly enough, six of the last seven quarterbacks led the Wolverines to victory in their first start. However, only Gardner played away from home and none made their debut amidst the pressure of a college football bowl game.
Fortunately for Morris, if he ever falls on tough times he’ll have top-tier talent to bail him out.
Look for All-Big Ten wide receiver Jeremy Gallon to be the go-to-guy. The senior has caught 80 passes for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns and has the ability to tack on yards after the catch to help make Morris’ job easier.
You can also expect Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to rely on running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green to take some of the pressure off the passing attack. The pass-blocking experience of Toussaint will especially come in handy when Morris drops back to throw.
All in all, it will definitely be a challenge going up against a Kansas State secondary that has been pretty solid all year—No. 47 against the pass (221.8 YPG).
However, Morris believes he is more than up to the task.
“I prepared for 12 weeks like I would be the starter,” Morris said, via Snyder. “They always say you’re one play away. Well, it’s true.”
Fittingly, Morris now stands just a game away from transforming his childhood dream into a permanent reality.
No pressure, kid.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.