Stephen Morris said he “kind of figured” he “might be the guy,” but that didn’t stop the shudder of excitement when University of Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch told him Monday that he had won the job as starting quarterback.
“I still got goose bumps,” Morris said Tuesday with a grin. “Now that it’s official, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
Morris, a 6-2, 214-pound junior, will lead the Hurricanes into 2012 on Sept. 1 at Boston College — the same 4-8 team that ended the Canes’ dismal 6-6 season with a loss in November. But this time his season-opening status won’t hinge on another quarterback being suspended by the NCAA, as Jacory Harris was last season for Maryland.
“He earned it,” coach Al Golden said of Morris’ No. 1 standing. “He had a great offseason, had a great summer. He’s unquestionably the leader right now.”
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Golden said Morris, who grew up in Miami Shores and graduated from nearby Monsignor Pace, punctuated an impressive quarterback battle with “a great scrimmage” Sunday that sealed the decision. His leadership role, mastery of the offense and impressive rehabilitation after offseason back surgery — not to mention a rocket for an arm — gave him the edge over redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams, who coaches nonetheless have praised since camp opened Aug. 3.
“You’re always disappointed if you don’t get the starting job, but you can’t sit around and mope about it,” said Williams, who led Miramar High to a state championship his senior season and started 10 games as a freshman at Memphis before transferring to UM. “You’ve got to move forward.”
Williams said he will “prepare and wait” for his “opportunity when it comes. I don’t know if I can win it at camp, but I’m still going to be fighting for it every day and pushing Stephen to get better.”
Morris already has substantial experience.
In 2010, as a freshman, Morris took over when Harris sustained a concussion at Virginia, completing 82 of 153 passes for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns in six games (four starts) — with nine interceptions. Last season, including the one start in the opening loss at Maryland, Morris was 26 of 37 for 283 yards, with two interceptions.
“He showed us that he’s 100 percent healthy,” said Fisch in explaining the decision to choose Morris. “That was our first question when he came back from the [surgery]. The next thing is he showed us that he has tremendous command of the offense. He really spent this spring almost like a redshirt year.
“The spring he spent with me, next to me, really leading the young kids and all that other stuff, was awesome. He showed us, No. 1, that he was mentally prepared, and then, No. 2, totally physically prepared. His arm strength has been tremendous. His feet have been great.”
Fisch said Morris’ growth as a leader “has been tremendous on and off the field. Off the field, just the way he interacts with the coaching staff, the way he interacts with the other players on the team, the way you watch him lead in the meeting rooms has been tremendous.”
Morris, who still talks often with Harris, insisted he’s not alone in his frustration with “mediocrity.”
“Everybody already got it,” he said. “The team understands that the U is back, that we’re not trying to have another 6-6 or 7-6 season. “My job isn’t to try to bring back what we had back in the day. My job is to execute and all that [good] stuff will come with it.”
Tight end Asante Cleveland said he was happy for Morris, and that he would have been equally supportive of Williams.
“If the coaches have full trust in Stephen, so do we,’’ Cleveland said. “He has a tremendous arm, is great at using his feet to keep a play alive and knows the offense in and out.
“Stephen knows what to expect. He’s a natural leader.’’
Morris, like his coach, is putting last year’s loss to Boston College in the back of his mind.
“We’re a new team, a new era, a new everything,’’ Morris said. “... Our biggest focus is to execute our game plan, and I’m sure we’ll come out with a win.’’