Dalen Morris never once considered walking away. Such a move would not be consistent with his makeup.
Despite being buried on the Navy quarterback depth chart for three years, Morris kept his head and confidence high.
In an era in which college football players routinely transfer if dissatisfied, Morris did not entertain the idea.
When Morris was beaten out for the backup job by a freshman last August, no one would have faulted him for hanging up the helmet to focus on the academic and military responsibilities of the Naval Academy.
Instead, Morris stayed the course and never wavered in the belief he could one day lead Navy’s patented triple-option offense.
“I’ve never been a guy who, if he doesn’t get his way, heads out,” Morris said during a virtual news conference Friday morning. “I wanted to fight and stick it out until the end and see if I could win the job.”
Morris was recently rewarded for his patience and perseverance, as offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper announced he had seized the starting quarterback spot with a strong series of practices to open preseason training camp.
Jasper, who personally tutors the team’s quarterbacks, described Morris as a “man on the mission” and said the senior had separated himself from the competition. It did not take long for Morris to leapfrog Perry Olsen and fellow sophomore Massai Maynor on the depth chart.
“Dalen came in with a purpose and took the position,” Jasper said. “I’m very excited with where Dalen is now. He just has to keep doing it and carry that confidence over into the season.”
Morris remains a question mark in the minds of many because he’s yet to play a meaningful snap for the Midshipmen. The Alabama native was third on the depth chart throughout last season and has seen mop-up duty in just five games during his career.
Jasper noted Morris has been in the quarterback meeting room for almost four years now and therefore “heard all the coaching points.” Now in his 19th season as Navy quarterbacks coach, Jasper is a stickler for proper mechanics and said that has not been a problem for Morris.
However, Morris has been so precise with his triple-option fundamentals so far this preseason his position coach could not help but notice.
“Dalen has been on point with his footwork every single day. It’s almost like he’s taken our playbook and mimicked each diagram [perfectly],” Jasper said. “As a senior in the program who has gotten a bunch of reps, he knows what I’m looking for and what he has to do.”
Olsen entered preseason camp as the starter after seeing significant game action behind Malcolm Perry last season. Maynor was also in the mix, while the coaching staff was auditioning converted wide receiver Chance Warren at quarterback as well.
Morris joked that he was running with the No. 2 offense one day, then was working with the starting unit the next. He didn’t know about being named the starter until Jasper’s comments to the media were passed along during a family group chat.
“It felt like all my hard work wasn’t in vain,” Morris said of his reaction to the news. “That said, the job isn’t finished. This is just the first box to check.”
Morris is hoping to join the likes of Aaron Polanco, Lamar Owens, Kriss Proctor and Will Worth as Navy quarterbacks who did not start until they were seniors. Ken Niumatalolo, entering his 13th season as head coach, said that legacy is a credit to Jasper.
Niumatalolo was not surprised Morris made significant strides since he’s been attending the “Ivin Jasper school of option football.”
“I think that’s why we’ve had one-year starters do great things because they’ve been in that room with this guy who is the best at developing option quarterbacks in this system,” Niumatalolo said. “Dalen’s been in all the meetings, been through all the drills, watched all the quarterbacks in front of him. He’s always had the talent; his issue was decision-making.”
Niumatalolo described Morris as “one of the most beloved” players on the team and praised his “infectious personality.”
“Before the COVID stuff, Dalen was always the guy that had 19 different handshakes for people when they came to practice,” Niumatalolo said. “Guys are happy for him because everybody loves Dalen. They also recognized that he earned it.”
Niumatalolo agreed wholeheartedly with Jasper’s assessment that Morris has been by far the best quarterback in training camp. He praised the 6-foot-1, 206-pound senior for making good decisions in both the running and passing games.
“Dalen came out of nowhere and he’s just been the best so far of operating the offense: reading, getting the ball dealt, throwing,” Niumatalolo said. “Dalen wasn’t the chosen one, so to speak. However, his play spoke so loudly you could not help but see it.”
‘There’s no tomorrow'
Thomas Morris is a tough, no-nonsense sort of person. He works as a narcotics agent for the North Alabama Drug Task Force and deals with serious issues on a daily basis.
Morris is also a man of faith who believes God has a plan. Whenever his youngest of two sons grew frustrated with football at Navy, the elder Morris preached.
“Dalen has definitely dealt with some disappointment. I would tell him all the time, ‘God didn’t let you go away to Annapolis and not allow you to play,‘” Thomas Morris said. “‘Just stay the course, continue to work hard and you’ll eventually get your chance.‘”
Leaving the Naval Academy was not an option for Dalen Morris, who is majoring in political science and leaning toward Naval Aviation as a service selection.
“Dalen has never been allowed to quit anything,” the elder Morris said matter-of-factly.
While back home in Alabama for almost four months, Morris drove more than an hour away to work out with David O’Connor, his coach for three seasons at Buckhorn High. O’Connor said Morris made the trek four days per week to lift weights and throw passes to receivers willing to run routes.
“Dalen made up his mind he was going to go back and win the job this season. There was no doubt in my mind that would happen because I watched him put in the sweat equity,” O’Connor said.
“Dalen is a high character, first-class individual who has always held himself to a high standard. I couldn’t be prouder of a young man because I know badly Dalen wanted this and how hard he worked to make it happen.”
Morris took over as Buckhorn’s starting quarterback midway through his freshman season and led the team to three straight playoff appearances. He transferred to Madison County as a senior after O’Connor left to become head coach at Giles County in Tennessee.
Morris didn’t have any scholarship offers after his final high school game, “which was kind of disheartening,” he said. He was elated when Navy assistant Ashley Ingram showed up at Madison County High in late December.
Morris took an official visit to the Annapolis campus in January and chose the Naval Academy after also considering late offers from North Alabama and Alabama A&M.
A pro-style passer operating out of shotgun formation all four years of high school, Morris was a fish out of water attempting to run Navy’s triple-option as a plebe.
“It was a big learning curve. I had trouble even taking snaps from center because I’d never done that before,” he said.
Thomas and Charlotte Morris were “ecstatic” to learn their son had finally reached the top of the Navy quarterback depth chart, but certainly not surprised.
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“Dalen knew it was now or never. ‘It’s senior year and I’ve got to be the man,‘” Thomas Morris said. “I told Dalen when he left for Annapolis: ‘You’ve got to leave it all out on the field. There’s no tomorrow.‘”