FAYETTEVILLE – Having been Arkansas’ offensive line coach during the first three years of former Razorbacks receiver Drew Morgan of Greenwood lettering 2013-2016, Sam Pittman as Arkansas new head coach in 2020 expected inheriting another tough Morgan.
And he certainly did Pittman, said of Greenwood’s Grant Morgan, Drew’s younger brother but Razorbacks stellar in his own right. Pittman praised Grant often even before the fifth-year senior linebacker excelled in last Saturday’s 33-21 SEC West victory over the Ole Miss Rebels at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Almost appearing more like the one-armed man that fugitive Richard Kimble pursued than a linebacker pursuing quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, Grant Morgan hasn’t even practiced live these last two weeks. His painfully injured elbow has been padded since injured during Arkansas’ 21-14 victory over Mississippi State.
The injury in Starkville, Miss. couldn’t prevent Morgan making 15 tackles, one for a loss, and breaking up a pass in the season’s second game.
Even without live practice reps leading into these last two Saturdays, Grant played on. He recorded five tackles in the Oct. 10, 30-28 loss at Auburn. A loss nationally acknowledged as a game Arkansas won but for an official’s premature whistle voiding an Arkansas fumble recovery and allowing Auburn to kick a game-winning field goal the next play overcome Arkansas’ 28-27 lead, 30-28 with seven seconds left to play.
Nobody could deny Arkansas leading Ole Miss start to finish last Saturday. Especially with Morgan’s pick-six 23-yard interception return with 3:07 left advancing Arkansas’ lead from a vulnerable 26-21 to the breathe easy, 33-21 finale.
Morgan not only logged the pick-six, he broke up two passes and made a game-leading 19 tackles, including two on Ole Miss’ game-opening drive denied on fourth and goal.
Asked postgame about Morgan’s performance and lack of live practice preparation, Pittman implied he had to contain Morgan even if Ole Miss couldn’t.
“Well, he couldn’t practice,” Pittman said. “He practiced, but we put a green (no-contact) shirt on him, which he hated. Every day he tried to come out there with a red on. I said, ‘No, no, no, no, we ain’t going to touch you today.’ He’s just a tough kid.”
Runs in the family, Pittman said drawing Drew back to Razorbacks attention.
“Like I said before, he’s a Morgan,” Pittman said. “His brother was the same way and probably his parents. Everybody’s tough in the Morgan family. You saw him holding that elbow on a play late in the fourth quarter and it didn’t stop him from picking a pass and running it back for a touchdown. He’s a tough kid. He is Arkansas. That’s what he is.”
So Arkansas that Grant walked on for Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks redshirting as a freshman in 2016 with Pittman by then gone to coach the Georgia offensive line.
By 2017 Morgan was a linebacker supersub and regular special team all 12 games for Bielema’s final 4-8 season and every game of the 2-10, 2-10 Chad Morris era behind graduated All-SEC middle linebacker Scoota Harris and weakside linebacker Bumper Pool.
With Harris graduated, Morgan mans the middle starting every game and not missing a beat even with Pool, exceptional this season but too injured to suit up against Ole Miss idled and replaced by senior Hayden Henry.
Henry came through with eight tackles, two for losses, and broke up a pass.
Morgan played so inspirationally that postgame Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks almost seemed more asked about Morgan than Arkansas’ offense.
“I think it’s a sign of resilience to play through injury,” Franks said. “Going out there and playing his heart out for not only the Arkansas nation and the state but also for his teammates and his coaches. He could easily say he couldn’t go … to go out there and have the game he had, it showed resilience not only with him but our defense and our team.”
It earned Morgan surely unanimously voting for the Crip Hall Award. That’s the honor annually awarded Arkansas’ outstanding senior in the homecoming game. Homecoming titled last Saturday’s game though you wouldn’t have known it by these current times restricted by the covid-19 pandemic.
Even with only 16,500 allowed to attend, breaking Arkansas’ 12-game home game SEC losing streak last Saturday and two weeks ago breaking a 20-game SEC losing streak beating Mississippi State makes it Morgan’s pleasure to play through his arm’s pain.
“Football is a painful game,” Morgan said. “So if there is no pain in it, then nothing is getting done.”
Given the pain he inflicted on Ole Miss, Grant Morgan did plenty.