When sophomore track standout D.J. Morgan of Woodland Hills Taft was 5, he tried to leap over a thorn bush in the frontyard of his parents' house in Pacoima while his older brothers watched in amusement.
Morgan ended up landing on top of the bush, cutting his legs. As he cried, his brothers laughed.
"That just made me jump higher and learn to get over it," he said. "Now, falling over hurdles is nothing compared to that because I remember the stinging sensation in my legs."
Life as a hurdler has become far more pleasant for Morgan, who ranks No. 1 in the Southland in the 110-high and 300-intermediate hurdles going into Saturday's prestigious at Arcadia High.
Motivation comes not only from his early run-in with shrubbery. Hurdling is in his genes. His father, Dale, ran the hurdles in high school, and his oldest brother, Chris, won state championships in the 110 highs for Taft in 2000 and 2001.
"He'd come home with medals, and I'd always want to get those medals," said Morgan, who was 9 when Chris won the 110 highs at the 2001 Arcadia Invitational.
"He got a little watch, and I always wanted that watch," Morgan said. "It was one of the best high school meets in the country, and I always wanted to run there and put on a show for the crowd."
Morgan's speed was visible last year at the City Section championships, where he finished second in both hurdle races behind teammate Jeshua Anderson.
And Morgan enhanced his reputation by becoming a standout running back for the Toreadores' football team last fall, when he rushed for 100 or more yards in eight of 12 games, including a 106-yard performance against Lake Balboa Birmingham, the eventual City champion.
USC and Florida are among the schools already pursuing him because of his football talent.
"D.J. is going to be a spectacular breakaway threat with ridiculous speed," Taft football Coach Matt Kerstetter said. "The speed, with his athleticism, gives him limitless potential."
At 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, Morgan isn't competing in track simply to help his football future. He sees himself as being strong in both sports and won't make a decision which to focus on in college until he determines at which he's best.
Another older brother, Josh, was a running back at Encino Crespi and now attends Pasadena City College. Chris earned a track scholarship to Arizona State in 2001 but never competed and left soon after.
Morgan's brothers didn't take care of their academics, hurting their college opportunities, and each has impressed on him the importance of school.
"They talk to me all the time about it," he said.
Last spring, Morgan found another role model in Anderson, who won the state championship in the 300 intermediate hurdles and earned a football scholarship to Washington State.
What set Anderson apart was his will to win, and that made an impression on Morgan.
"I saw how hard he was working and know what it takes to get to that level to break records like he did," Morgan said. "He didn't let anybody stop him. He tried hard even when he was tired."
Two weeks ago, Morgan showed he intended to be a factor in the competition for state titles. At the Pasadena Games, he ran career-best times of 14.46 and 38.07, both fastest in the state at the time.
"It was the moment, and when the moment comes, you have to step up," he said.
There are going to be lots of such moments for Morgan in the coming years, and as he proved when he landed in that thorn bush, he's not going to let anything stand in his way.
Where: Arcadia High, 180 Campus Drive, Arcadia.
Today's schedule: "Rising Stars" field events from 4:40-6:45 p.m.; "Burnin' Batons" relays from 4:40 to 9:30 p.m.
Saturday's morning schedule: Open running events from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; open field events from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Saturday's evening schedule: Invitational field events from 4 to 6:50 p.m.; invitational running events from 5:25 to 9:50 p.m.
Highlight: The boys' 100-meter invitational race at 6:30 p.m. Saturday figures to be especially exciting because of the participation of two talented juniors, Randall Carroll from Los Angeles Cathedral and Charles Saseun from Rancho Cucamonga, and senior Chris Owusu from Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
Admission: Today--$7 adults, $5 children 12 and under. Saturday--$15 adults, $10 students with ID, $5 children.
Website: arcadiainvitational.orgCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun