BLOOMINGTON — It takes time to become a member of a high school varsity sports team, more if you want to star and even more if you want to shine in two sports.
The time-management skills — and talent — of James Morris helped him make up for lost time in a big way for Central Catholic High School’s football and basketball teams.
The football all-stater earned first-team Pantagraph All-Area honors in both sports, a feat which has helped him become The Pantagraph Area Male Athlete of the Year.
“You’ve got to be a dedicated person to be able to manage all that,” said Central basketball coach Jason Welch. “He’s also a good student.”
Football coach Mike Moews says, “It warms my heart to see the multi-sport athlete still alive and kicking.”
The only other athlete earning All-Area honors in football and basketball was Bryce Barnes of GCMS. In the spring, Morris added to his already full plate by going out for tennis for the first time.
Morris didn’t begin playing football until his junior year when he became an all-Corn Belt Conference linebacker. As a senior, he became a three-position star, leading the area in receiving yards with 1,084 on 45 catches, 14 of which went for touchdowns for a 9-2 team. He was also an All-Area punter, averaging 36.3 yards on 13 punts, six of which landed inside the 20-yard line.
Moews rates Morris’ willingness to accept coaching among his biggest strengths.
“He understood he was a neophyte,” Moews said. “He really listened to the coaches. At the end of the day, he was just a competitor.”
Morris played two years of basketball before sitting out as a junior. He returned last winter to average 10.9 points on 53 percent field goal shooting and grab 6.5 rebounds for a 26-7 squad that placed third in the Class 2A state tournament.
“Whatever you need, he is going to give it to you,” Welch said. “He has complete buy in when he comes into your locker room.”
On the gridiron, Morris wanted to learn.
“We were really glad when he came out,” said Moews, who describes Morris as a “quiet guy” who nevertheless played with full-volume intensity.
There were many games last season when Moews considered the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Class 3A all-stater the best player on the field. Defensive backs were too small to cover him and linebackers couldn’t match his 4.6-second 40-yard dash speed.
If one play summed up Morris’ football season, it was a 57-yard touchdown reception he had during a five-catch, 171-yard effort in a 59-39 victory over St. Joseph-Ogden.
“He was kind of running a dig, an under route, but caught it and turned it from a 20-yard gain into about a 60-yard touchdown,” Moews said. “He faked one kid out and stiff-armed another. That play really got us over the hump.”
Among Morris’ best basketball games was a 16-point outing against Deer Creek-Mackinaw in a 47-46 super-sectional victory in which he had 10 points in the fourth quarter, including two key free throws with 7.8 seconds left.
“That game was starting to get away and they had a little momentum,” Welch remembers. “All of a sudden, he just put us on his back in the fourth quarter and drove us right into the state tournament.”
A second-team all-Illini Prairie Conference basketball honoree, the right-handed Morris missed the first five games with a right hand injury, and the Saints went 1-4. With him, they went 25-3.
As much as Morris stood out, he also blended in, so much so that he was one of the Saints’ three captains in football.
“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and my coaches,” he said. “They guide us to do the right thing all the time. They hold us accountable.”
Morris plans to continue his football career for one year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as a wide receiver and safety or linebacker.
“If I get an extra year in of working out and lifting, developing my skills,” he said, “I think that could benefit me and help me get into a college.”
In college, Morris hopes to study liberal arts and business finance.
“I think the coolest job would be some sort of executive manager of a sports team,” he said.
It will take time for Morris to digest what he accomplished during a senior year filled with surprise.
“I never expected to do that well,” he said. “I didn’t know I was capable of what I did. I wasn’t really expecting to get a lot of honors for it.”