BLOOMINGTON — It was August of 2016 and James Morris, who considered basketball his main sport, had yet to decide if he'd join the Central Catholic High School golf team or football team.

Ultimately, the then-junior chose football and Saint fans have been cheering that decision ever since. 

"The main thing that encouraged me to play was the people who were doing it," said Morris, whose 9-1 team is ranked fourth in Class 3A ahead of Saturday's 2 p.m. second-round playoff game at No. 2 Williamsville (10-0).

"I had a lot of friends on the football team. It's a great atmosphere and a great group of guys. We've got great coaches who are very welcoming."

As a 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver with 4.6-second 40-yard dash speed, Morris has become a mismatch nightmare. Most defensive backs are too short to cover him and most linebackers are too slow.

"With his background as a basketball player, he's got good hands," adds Coach Mike Moews. "He's got good body control in the air and that really helps him."

Morris leads the Pantagraph area with 1,070 receiving yards on 43 catches for a robust 24.9 yards per reception, 11 of which have gone for touchdowns.

Morris said the key is running precise routes aggressively. He credits assistant coach Steve Moews for designing creative routes.

Helping Morris, a former tight end, shine in his first year as a wide receiver is quarterback Max Moews, who has completed 95 of 147 passes for 1,805 yards and 22 touchdowns.

"Max is a very competitive guy, which I appreciate," Morris said. "I've always been friends with him since pre-K. We've always had a great connection.

"Max puts the ball in the perfect position for me to make a play and I just go out and do it."

Morris is no slouch on defense where he earned all-Corn Belt Conference first-team honors last year as a linebacker. This year, he has a team-high four interceptions, three of which he's scored on.

His interception return against Pontiac was a game-winner and his interception with 1:36 left Saturday clinched a 35-31 win over Beardstown.

"I kind of like defense a little more," Morris said. "It's fun catching touchdowns and everything, but I like being on the defense.

"Shutting teams out is really fun. The physical aspect of it is the best. It's what football is all about."

Mike Moews rates Morris equally good on defense and offense.

"He's more instinctive as a receiver than a defensive player, but he's a good athlete so that carries him a long ways on both sides of the ball," Moews said. 

A team captain, Morris likens the adrenaline rush he gets from football to making a game-winning shot in basketball. 

"Football, there is nothing like it," he said. "It's very intense. I think football is the best sport I've ever played."

Cheering him on are parents Jim and Lori. 

"My mom is kind of crazy. She gets nervous every time I get involved in a big play," Morris said. "My dad, he's really into it because he used to play. He's excited for me."

Jim Morris was a safety for the Green Bay Packers in 1987. The former Kansas State star also played in the USFL from 1984 to 1986.

"He's very helpful with the tips he gives," said the younger Morris, who may give college football a try.

His coach says he has a "tremendous upside."

"He certainly can be refined quite a bit," Mike Moews said. "Last year, we really didn't use him offensively because it was a lot to ask doing both offense and defense for a first-year player.

"This year, we were able to work with him in the summer as far as route running and reading defenses and coverages. I think he can get bigger and stronger. I certainly think he could play at the next level."

The next level of the playoffs pits Central against what may be it's strongest opponent yet in Williamsville.

"I think they are very talented, but I think we match up well against teams like this," Morris said. "When we know we're facing an opponent that is pretty good, we step it up a notch in practice. We know our job at hand is tough and we're going to give it all we've got."

Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @PG_sharer

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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