No quarterback controversy for LU

Morris emerges as clear-cut starter for Blue Tigers

Jacob Morris throws a pass during a Blue Tigers game last season. (News Tribune file photo)

Jacob Morris throws a pass during a Blue Tigers game last season. (News Tribune file photo) Photo by News Tribune.

There is no quarterback controversy for the Lincoln Blue Tigers this year.

Unlike 2012, when Jacob Morris wasn’t named the starter until the week leading up to the season, a year where he split time with Lewis Larson, no time was wasted making the decision for 2013.

“Jake is the starter,” Lincoln head coach Mike Jones said way back on Aug. 5 at the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association media day in Kansas City. “He has done a phenomenal job, not only in the offseason of working out, but he’s become more of a leader. Everybody is putting him in a position to lead this football team. That’s what we need from him.”

Morris was up-and-down as a sophomore last season, going 169-for-327 (51.7 percent) for 1,718 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 11 interceptions in 11 games. Larson got his fair share of playing time, going 52-for-106 (49 percent) for 629 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in seven games played.

But with Morris’ work during the offseason and in the spring, Jones knew it was a no-brainer.

“It was his mission to let everyone know he’s the starting quarterback,” Jones said. “When you get to the point where you’re saying, ‘You know what, nobody at this position is going to beat me in anything that I do,’ that’s how competitive he is, that’s what I like about him.

“Jake is maturing. He wants to be a very good football player. It was his mission to not only be the best quarterback, but the best football player on the field. He did a great job this spring and hopefully it will reflect during the season.”

That’s a sentiment Morris reiterated.

“I would like to think that (I’m the guy),” Morris said. “I want to come in, and not just for myself, but just to change the whole program around in general. We’ve got one goal and that’s to win games this year. That has to be my mentality to make the whole team better.

“That means a lot to me, just for coach Jones to have that much trust and put that much on my shoulders. It just makes me want to work that much harder and make me realize I have to grow up that much faster.”

Morris is expecting big things this season, both from himself and the team.

“I set a few records last year, so I’d like to build on that,” he said, referencing his school benchmarks in completions and attempts and nearly reaching the record in passing yards set by Steve Bohlken in 1988 (1,939 yards), “and win games and make this program a better program for the university.

“I don’t know if I’d consider (a .500 season) a successful year, you never want to settle for less than what you can get. A .500 year isn’t something we’ve had here at Lincoln University in a long time. I wouldn’t be disappointed, but I don’t know if I’d be satisfied.”

Lincoln hasn’t finished at or above .500 since a 9-1 campaign in 1972, the last season of legendary coach Dwight T. Reed’s 24-year tenure.

A strong year from Morris is crucial to any success Lincoln will have. Still, Jones doesn’t want to put too much pressure on his signal-caller.

“I’m not putting any expectations on him,” Jones said. “He has things he wants to do, he has some things he wants to prove to people he’s a good quarterback, a good leader.

“We haven’t put any numbers expectations, just that he should be the leader of this team.”

It seems like Morris is putting the pressure on himself, though.

“Just to establish a football program here,” Morris said when asked about his expectations. “I’ve got this year and next year.”

One thing that should help Morris is almost every key contributor on offense is back from a season ago.

“That helps me a lot as far as pressure that’s on my shoulders,” Morris said. “They help out tremendously. They know the system.”

That includes the top six receivers from 2012.

“I think we have an outstanding receiving corps this year,” Morris said. “We have Khiry Draine, who got hurt last year three games into the season, but was already having a good season. Mo Woodard had an outstanding season (with 68 catches for 705 yards and six touchdowns). Andre Borney. Percy Turner. Devoyius Mark. We’ve got five or six seniors across the board, so I think our receivers will be all right this year.”

That list doesn’t even include Jammell Trammell and Morris Henderson, who ranked second and third in receiving yards on last year’s team.

Regardless, it will take more than a bunch of returners to improve an offense that finished 14th out of 15 teams in the MIAA in both scoring and total yards last season. Morris has a couple ideas on how to fix that.

“We have to establish a run game, for one,” Morris said. “For two, I feel like we tried to air the ball out a lot last year, where we need to be more concentrated on high-percentage throws, the short throws just to continue to keep drives going, the short yardage.

“Instead of relying on big plays to happen to keep us in the game, we need to keep ourselves in the game by controlling the clock and high-percentage throws.”

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