It’s rare to see Florida Gators senior linebacker Antonio Morrison in a bad mood. Even though he’s had his fair share of off-field struggles during his tenure with the Gators and spent the last nine months recovering from two surgeries to a seriously injured knee, Morrison somehow made it back to the field ahead of the first game of the season and was all smiles in a post-practice media availability held Tuesday.
While Morrison had no issue discussing his recovery, he preferred to talk about his teammates when provided with the opportunity to speak in front of a microphone and a dozen voice recorders. The praise he offered them made him sound like the leader head coach Jim McElwain has made Morrison out to be all offseason.
“We got the best linebacker corps in the country, man,” Morrison began. “I promise you, these guys are all going to be better than me – [Alex] Anzalone, [Daniel] McMillian, Jarrad Davis – they’re all going to be better than me. I’m the least athletic out of all of them, man. Either way, we’re going to have a great linebacker corps, whether I’m out there or not.”
Morrison did not stop there with Anzalone, referring to the junior as the new quarterback of Florida’s defense. “He’s really taken that role over. I echo his calls. That’s a big change from when I was making all the calls,” he noted.
“All those guys are going to be better than me. You’ll be forgetting my name probably next year.”
That may be the case, but no one is forgetting about Morrison now, not while he’s taking the time to point out that the Gators have no excuses for not putting forth the country’s best defense due to the team’s players and coaching staff.
“We’re going to be the best defense in the country, man. For sure, no doubt.”
Moving to the offensive side of the ball, Morrison’s compared Florida’s freshman running backs to a pair of dominant rushers, one of whom is struggling in the NFL (as Morrison candidly pointed out) and another who may be the very best the professional ranks have to offer these days.
“[Jordan] Scarlett reminds me of Trent Richardson … in college … not in the pros,” said Morrison while flashing a grin. “[Jordan] Cronkrite, he runs like Adrian Peterson. He’s not as big as him, but this dude is just north and south. And you already know about Kelvin Taylor, how shifty he is, how good his feet [are]. We got good backs that can produce, man.”
As most players do, the Gators as a whole have been effusive in their praise for their new coaching staff, though few have taken the time to juxtapose coaches to those they replaced. Morrison did not pull any punches in comparing the methods of director of strength and conditioning Mike Kent to those of his predecessor, Jeff Dillman.
“Coach Kent is light years better than what we did in the past,” he said. “Guys actually like lifting. We see our bodies growing. We’re putting on weight. Guys are getting stronger. We’re going into the weight room ready to go.”
But while Morrison wanted to talk about everyone else, it’s him that most want to learn more about.
How did a player whose knee injury was so bad that he not only needed two surgeries on it but had his family specifically request that the school not release any specifics (for fear of NFL repercussions) take the field six months after going down when the normal rehabilitation timetable was 10-12?
“I just worked hard. This is what I worked for, to play,” he explained. “Injuries are part of the game. That’s what I signed up for. You’re going to get injured. I did rehab, now I’m playing.”
Morrison continued: “It wasn’t tough at all. I got a great doctor, great training staff. Those guys did everything for me. With my work ethic, I didn’t think it was tough. Now I’m ready to go.”
To his teammates, specifically those on the defensive side of the ball, Morrison’s recovery is hard to fathom.
“It’s actually scary like how fast he made it back. He put in countless hours in the training room,” said senior defensive back Brian Poole. “It’s great to see him back. Definitely inspirational.”
Senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard agreed. “Amazing, man. It’s unbelievable how fast he came back. He’s our spokesman on defense. He speaks, we listen, he calls the plays, we listen. So, it’s great to have him back.”
Morrison admitted that he felt the excitement from his teammates once he got back on the field, but he refused to chalk his recovery up to anything more than pure determination.
“I don’t think it’s a miracle. I put the work in. I got a great doctor, great training staff, best in the country – and I’m healed now,” he said. “[My teammates] were excited and it felt good to be back with them. I don’t like being hurt, so I did everything I could to get back out there with them.”
Just two years ago, referring to Morrison as a leader and role model for the Gators would have emitted an understandable chuckle.
But with a new regime in place and Florida beginning its trek back to the top of the mountain in 2015, Morrison looks to be exactly what the Gators need.