Morgan playing with military precision 2 Army veterans lead resurgence


The team's leading receiver is 25 years old, married and the father of a 2-year-old daughter. Its running back is 26, also married, and leads the conference in rushing and all-purpose yards.

Jessie Humphrey and Tony Phillips play for Morgan State's rebuilding Bears, a team with so many freshmen and sophomores that the two military veterans are closer in age to the coaching staff than to most of their teammates. And they bring to the football field not only athletic talent, but maturity.

Humphrey (6 feet 3, 180 pounds), a receiver in Morgan's run-and-shoot offense, has compiled 24 catches for 362 yards and five touchdowns for the Bears (2-3). Phillips (5-9, 175) leads the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with 471 yards on 96 carries and 180.8 all-purpose yards per game. He's fumbled just once, scored four touchdowns and leads the team in kickoff returns with a 20.1-yard average. Both run the 40 in 4.5 seconds.

Both participated in Desert Storm.

"We've got two guys who've been to war," said Morgan coach Ricky Diggs. "They have a different perspective on things when they come back."

They actually came back from Germany, not the Persian Gulf. Phillips, who is from Lake City, S.C., played for two years at Gardner-Webb before a four-year hitch in the Air Force. He was on active duty in Germany as a command and control specialist when his unit was brought into the operation, sending planes to the war zone from there.

Humphrey's life was more directly interrupted. He had completed four years of active Army duty at Fort Myer, Va., where he had been a member of the Army's silent drill team for three years. The ceremonial unit traveled extensively, promoting the Army and doing recruiting work. He enrolled at Montgomery College-Rockville, then a junior college powerhouse, where he caught passes from current Maryland quarterback John Kaleo.

In January of his freshman year, while on reserve status, he had to leave his wife, infant daughter and school behind. He was ordered to Germany and retrained with a tank crew. His unit was scheduled to go to the desert, but the war ended before they had to leave.

Humphrey is a classic late bloomer. His St. Petersburg, Fla., high school team ran the wishbone offense, not a receiver's favorite, though it might not have made any difference. "I was 5-9, 130, coming out of high school," Humphrey said. "I didn't impress many people. I always knew I had the talent. I don't think I've reached my peak. I try to improve every day."

Diggs is impressed. "He's as smooth a receiver as I've ever been around," he said. "He can jump out of the stadium. There's not enough good things for me to say about him. He's mannerable and does anything you ask him to do."

And he has the kind of maturity and dedication coaches love for their underclassmen to see. His wife works in the Washington area and the Humphreys live in Silver Spring. They have just one car, so Jessie commutes daily on the MARC train, catching a bus to campus from Penn Station. Three mornings a week he rises at 5:30 a.m. to make a 9 a.m. class. He receives a partial scholarship, so he works about 15 hours a week waiting on tables at a Rockville restaurant. Some nights he doesn't get home until 11:30 p.m.

Phillips, whose wife is from Baltimore, doesn't have so far to go. "I love the city and decided to make this my home after I got out of the military," he said.

"Tony has fine speed, great balance and is a hard runner," Diggs said. Despite his size, "he can take a pounding and never get tired. He can run all day. He doesn't break too many long ones, he's just consistent. He'll give you 5, 10 yards every time."

Phillips likes what he sees of the Bears. "Even though we have a young team, some of the guys are mature in different ways," he said. "That's what distinguishes this team from teams in the past. The guys are maturing much quicker. They have an idea what they want to achieve, and that's to be the very best."

Phillips and Humphrey will be playing one of the best at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at Hughes Stadium when Central State's Marauders come to town. Central State (5-1) clobbered Kentucky State last week, 83-0, but Morgan is confident.

"I hope they don't come in thinking they're gonna roll over us," said Humphrey, " 'Cause it's not going to happen."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad