The large city of Miami, located in the warm southern region of Florida, has long been known for creating NFL-caliber athletes. This city has produced more football talent than almost any other region in the country, currently boasting over 85 players in the NFL. With such a high volume of talented athletes coming out of one city in the United States, many people wonder what Florida is doing that is so different from other parts of the country. The answer is simple; football is not just a sport in Miami, it is a culture – a lifestyle.
Senior linebacker Brandon Morris grew up in Davie, Florida, and like many young Miamians, football was woven into his life beginning at age four. Morris began his career playing for the Miramar Optimist Wolverines, a team belonging to the the South Florida Youth Football League (SFYFL). At the time, the SFYFL was one of the largest youth football leagues in the country with over 30 teams. After playing for the Wolverines, Morris played for a year on the West Pines Optimist team where was coached by Tommie Robinson, a former-NFL and Division I football coach. After another 365 days passed, Morris then spent a couple of years with the Davie Broncos, where he was coached by former-NFL receiver Trevor Gaylor and Jamie Ricketts. It is with the Davie Broncos, at just age eight, where Morris really began developing his fundamental skills under the guidance of Gaylor and Ricketts.
Despite the SFYFL being one of the largest youth football leagues, Morris knew a lot of players and coaches from other teams. On the weekends, large groups of players would work out together, regardless of the team they were on. Morris remembers, "It was never a question of whether I'd go to an extra training session, it was a matter of which field it would be on." He also remembers an opposing team's coach, Tracy Martin, having a vital impact on his football career. He learned a lot from Martin about pride, respect and not settling for being average – always striving to be better.
Morris was tabbed as an elite player from a young age and because of his talent he never marveled over another player's skillset. In 2006 an elite South Florida football camp was established by Sly Johnson, a former NFL wide receiver. Johnson's camp, Premier Athletes, was initially founded to help Morris and a few other teammates, but the camp quickly grew to be the camp for elite players in the region. There was a big emphasis in youth elite football to focus on improving their weaknesses. At the time, his lateral quickness and ball skills were limitations that he needed to build on. Morris was lucky growing up in such a warm climate, because being able to train year-round was something that allowed him to refine his skills quicker than other athletes in different parts of the country.
Growing up in a football-focused community, the sport was a family affair. Morris remembers his father driving straight to school after work to take him to practice every single day. It did not matter how far the practice or game was, or what time it was at, his parents always made sure he was able to compete at the highest level with everyone else. His father was also involved in connecting Morris with specific coaches he knew would improve his skillset on the field, as well as coaches who helped him with training to improve speed and endurance off the field.
Entering into his freshman year of high school, Morris and his teammates had been playing football twice as long as most other players in the country. Between the talented youth leagues he was a part of, and the elite football camps he was invited to, Morris had developed a strong skillset and a mental toughness that is often not developed until the collegiate level. Football at Miramar High School, like many high schools in the area, mirrors very closely the collegiate experience. Morris' head coach Damon Cogdell, known as one of the best football coaches in Florida, set the tone for Morris within weeks of being a freshman on the team. Cogdell had a coaching staff of over 20 experienced positional coaches and held a very strict practice regime, similar to collegiate football. During his time at Miramar, Cogdell had a 72-19 record, with many state championship appearance and multiple head coaching accolades. Being a player on his team meant that Morris was getting access to some of the best coaches in the country, being able to compete at a collegiate-level of intensity, while still being in high school.
By the time Morris was an upperclassman at Miramar, him and his peers were receiving Division I offers from multiple schools. As he got closer to making a decision, Morris was leaning heavily towards the Division I path. However, when a former quarterback from Miramar, who played at Wesleyan University, encouraged Morris to check out the small Division III school in Connecticut, he decided to look into it.
After his first visit to campus, Morris felt that Wesleyan was a great fit for him, immediately connecting well with current players and other students on campus. During the recruiting process, he felt that there were three significant things that Wesleyan could give him: The opportunity to play early on, strong support from alumni and the 40-year decision. Head Coach Dan DiCenzo explained, "When we were recruiting Brandon we could tell from the beginning his education was more important than football. He wanted to play, but was not willing to sacrifice his academics."
Morris ultimately felt that Wesleyan was the best choice for him, both athletically and academically. He felt that he was always a strong leader on his teams growing up, coaching himself and others by pushing everyone to be the best they can be. By coming to Wesleyan, he knew that he could contribute to the team early on, in a big way, by providing skill and leadership. Coming off of a stellar senior season in high school, Morris was excited to continue that momentum at Wesleyan, by having the chance to play early on. Coach DiCenzo feels that Morris has been, "A quiet leader, but when he talks, his teammates listen."
Everything has come full circle for Morris as he reflects on the strong leadership he had over the years, so he makes it a priority to provide the same guidance to younger generations. When he is home, he speaks to teams about the importance of education, mentoring them and guiding them on different paths they can take. While at Wesleyan, Morris was heavily involved with many groups on campus, one of which focused on mentoring athletes in the Middletown community. Morris feels incredibly grateful to have been surrounded by so many great leaders in football and academics throughout his journey and will continue to give back any time he has the opportunity.
Before he stepped foot on campus, Morris explained, "My goals heading into college were to: obtain a full-time job before my senior year, make meaningful connections with alumni and continue improving as a football player." All of these, were dreams that Morris fulfilled here at Wesleyan.
Professor: Karl Boulware
Band/Artist: Chance The Rapper
Pro Athlete: Khalil Mac
Started Playing Football: Four years old
Best Kept Secret: Loves to bake