Former N. Meck star signed with, but never played for Buckeyes
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RALEIGH - Derek Morris missed out on a lot when he asked to be released from his scholarship at Ohio State in 2002.
He wasn't around as the Buckeyes went on to win the national title that season. He didn't get to play for Ohio State offensive line coach Jim Bollman, whom he admires as a person and a coach.
Morris joined N.C. State in January 2003. Even during August, when he knew Richmond was the first game on N.C. State's schedule, he couldn't deny his excitement about Saturday's game with Ohio State.
"To tell the truth, Ohio State is a really special game, just because I never got to play there," said Morris then.
It's a difficult week for him to be rehabilitating a sprained ankle. Although he is scheduled to start at right offensive tackle, he is listed as questionable and might not know until Saturday whether he will be able to play.
The injury is merely the latest setback in a career that has seen many.
A first-team USA Today and Parade All-American at North Mecklenburg High in 2001, Morris signed with Ohio State. But the school didn't rule him academically eligible in the fall of 2002.
He has said he wasn't allowed to practice because the NCAA was investigating him, though he won't discuss the reason for the investigation. He finally was released from his scholarship and enrolled at N.C. State. He broke a toe in preseason camp last fall and sat out a five-game NCAA suspension.
"Everything was so good coming out of high school and everything was on a good page and at the right pace," Morris said. "And all of a sudden, a real stop sign just came, and I really got frustrated."
Things finally turned around for him late last season. N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said it took time for Morris to learn the terminology and to succeed against strong, agile college defenders.
Morris started N.C. State's final five games. In the offseason, strength coaches Todd Stroud and Pat Meyer ran him so much that he hated running.
He kept doing it because they told him they saw the potential for something great in him. N.C. State's offseason conditioning program required players to run 20 110-yard dashes in a prescribed time, but Morris did more.
Before the conditioning runs, he got on the treadmill to run as much as a mile and a half. He would think about his goals as he did it.
"Derek, do you want to reach the ultimate goal?" he said he asked himself. "Do you want to be the best tackle in America? Do you want to be a first-round draft pick some day? You've got to go do this."
Then he would jump rope. And lift weights. And then he would join the team for the conditioning runs.
He got down to 327 pounds for preseason practice after he once carried 367 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame.
Morris has always had plenty of talent. His genes alone assured that. His father, Derek Morris Sr., played at Delaware State and attended minicamp with the New York Jets before playing in the Canadian Football League.
His uncle, Mercury Morris, rushed for 3,877 yards and won two Super Bowls in his career with the Miami Dolphins. His mother, Marilyn Morris, played volleyball as a youth.
They advised him to have fun and be the best, and he's finally doing that again. When he prays, he thanks God for giving him the opportunity to play with a great group of teammates.
If his ankle allows, he will play Saturday against the team he wanted to play for out of high school.
"That was something I really wanted to do and never achieved, and that hurts," Morris said. "So of course it's a special game to go play against them and show them what they missed out on and what N.C. State has."
Ht., Wt.: 6-6, 327 pounds
IN HIGH SCHOOL: First-team USA Today and Parade All-American as a North Mecklenburg High senior in 2001.
IN COLLEGE: Signed with Ohio State in 2002 but was never ruled academically eligible. Transferred to N.C. State in January of 2003. Has started Wolfpack's past six games