Editor’s Note: In the latest installment of #TBT (Throwback Thursday), Austin Adamson looks back on the last BYU Linebacker to be drafted in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft.
With the 2014 NFL draft upon us, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy is up next in a long line of Cougar linebackers to play on Sundays. He will join the likes of Kurt Gouveia, Shay Muirbrook, Rob Morris, Colby Bockwoldt, Brady Poppinga, Bryan Kehl, and David Nixon. Van Noy has an outside chance to do something no BYU linebacker has done since Rob Morris: be a first round pick. While KVN’s future is yet to be determined, now is a good time to reflect on the Freight Train that was Rob Morris.
Rob Morris came to BYU as a fullback from Nampa High School in Idaho. Rob would say he “came from a small town and wanted to do big things.” As a high schooler, Morris played fullback and he was a two time all state performer and an honorable mention USA Today All-American in his senior year. Morris was a fierce ball carrier. In his final high school season, he gained 1,553 yards on the ground. He had games of 245 and 253 yards rushing. His performance in high school helped him garner offers from Stanford, Washington, and Arizona State before ultimately deciding to attend BYU.
Morris made the switch from fullback to linebacker in October of his freshman season at BYU. The best word to describe the way Morris played at BYU? Dominant. Morris led the Cougars in tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons and was second on the team in tackles as a senior despite missing four games because of a groin injury.
Like Van Noy, many thought Morris would enter the NFL draft after his junior season, in which he was the WAC’s Pacific Division Defensive Player of the Year. Morris decided to come back in hopes of winning the Butkus award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker, and leading BYU to the inaugural MWC crown. BYU decided to market Morris for the Butkus award as the Freight Train. BYU leadership elected to use Freight Train rather than the “Super Freak” name he got from teammate and Lawless Republic writer, Derik Stevenson, in part because it was more appropriate. The Freight Train moniker came after Morris told Brent Musburger in an interview that sacking a QB was like a freight train hitting a Yugo. Many BYU fans will remember the wooden freight train whistles given out that season to remind fans and voters of Rob’s dominance. Unfortunately for Morris, injuries prevented him from being the country’s top linebacker, but BYU did win a share of the MWC football title that year.
Morris left BYU with 333 total tackles, 13 sacks, 35 tackles for loss, 7 pass break ups, and 3 forced fumbles, one touchdown, and one “grass angel” touchdown celebration. He was named a Football News First Team All-American after his junior season and was named a Second Team All-American by the AP, The Sporting News, and AFCA following his senior campaign.
Morris was known almost as much for his off the field antics as he was for his on field performance. A BYU urban legend tells the story of Morris going face to face with an alligator and setting a new personal record in the 40 yard dash to get away from it after Morris poked the animal with a stick. He would jump off the roof of his apartment complex into the pool and was known to paint his fingernails. Morris and Stevenson, who was his wingman, would shave the heads of freshmen to show the new guys who was in charge.
He was also vocal about his opinions on BYU’s Honor Code. Morris saw his teammate, Ronney Jenkins, suspended in 1997 and expelled in 1998 due to Honor Code violations. Morris raised questions about the Code’s fairness in dealing with black athletes and advocated a program to help these athletes adjust to the expectations at BYU.
Morris was selected 28th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2000 NFL draft. He was tabbed as a starter for the Colts at middle linebacker on draft day, but an injury prevented him from lasting the entire season. The injury, a ruptured tendon in his right leg, proved to be problematic throughout the first several years of his career. While Morris played well when healthy, he had a hard time meeting the high expectations Colts fans had for their first round pick. In 2006, Morris started at linebacker in the Super Bowl and won a ring with Indianapolis that day. The following season, Morris suffered the same injury in his left leg that he had sustained earlier in his career in his right leg. Due to this injury, Morris was forced to retire at the end of the 2007 season.
Morris was a graduate assistant at BYU during the 2011 season, but resigned after just one year on staff. He would be a great asset to have around the program and I hope that BYU finds a way to keep him close moving forward.
Morris was one of the Cougars that got me excited about going to games as a kid and that wooden whistle is a fond memory of mine. While Kyle Van Noy is fresh on our minds as one of the greatest linebackers to ever play in Provo, I believe Rob Morris has an argument as the greatest of all time at BYU.