ORLANDO, Fla. – Bernard Morris is evolving into a throwback for the Arena Football League’s Orlando Predators.
In a league that once placed value on “Ironman” football – players who excelled offensively and defensively – the Jones High School product is willing to line up anywhere on the field.
The starting quarterback in Orlando last season, Morris won’t be behind center Saturday when the Predators (3-2) host the Cleveland Gladiators (3-2) at Amway Center at 7 p.m.
The Preds lost 56-46 at Cleveland in the American Conference title game in August, the outcome ultimately decided when Morris fumbled for the second time as Orlando trailed by nine points with nearly a minute left. It was his third-straight conference final loss after spending the previous two seasons with the Jacksonville Sharks.
Morris will contribute in different ways in the rematch as former Tampa Bay Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard gets the starting nod again for the sixth time this season.
“Everyone wants to be the guy,” Morris said. “I’ve been playing quarterback all my life and I want to be that guy in the central position with the ball in my hands with one second left on the clock. But things change. They felt Randy was better at the start of the season, but I’m still here and I’m one of Randy’s coaches as far as what I see on the sideline.”
Morris has accepted his new role in much the same manner he’d expect players he helped coach at Jones this spring to respond: by remaining a team player and biding his time.
He’s thrown just four passes this season but has been used at running back, wide receiver, defensive back, linebacker and on special teams, primarily out of necessity.
“When you were a starter, or might not have the playing time that you feel deep down inside you want, it’s all about attitude, and Bernard has an unbelievable attitude about it,” Preds second-year coach Rob Keefe said. “You can be competitive and still want something, but you can do it in a positive way and that’s the thing we like to see from Bernard and anybody on our team.”
Morris has reached the end zone seven times on 16 carries, including a four-touchdown effort to go alongside 5.5 tackles in a 55-54 April 3 at Jacksonville.
“A lot of people say ‘if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one’ but for us we just recognize the skill set is different,” Keefe said. “We can use Bernard in a multitude of ways. He’s running down on kickoffs, he’s playing defensive back, and we have special goal line packages for him.”
The versatility speaks to the athleticism of Morris, who played collegiately at Marshall University before making his indoor football debut in 2009 in the defunct arenafootball2.
Wide receiver Larry Brackins was also playing in his third-straight conference final last year after coming over from the Philadelphia Soul. He caught five passes and a touchdown in that decisive game against Cleveland and sees no change in the way Morris approaches things.
“We’ve got two good quarterbacks, so whenever Bernard’s number gets called I’m sure we’ll pick up and keep rolling,” Brackins said. “Bernard’s a team guy and whatever coach needs him to do he’ll do, there’s no big confusion about it. He just wants to be out here.”