Michigan QB Shane Morris fiery but tempered as apparent No. 3 on team

Former prep star still burns to be No. 1 but knows life will go on if he has to start season on sidelines

Mick McCabe
Detroit Free Press
Michigan passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch, left, signals to players on the field as quarterback Shane Morris looks on.

Shane Morris arrived at his fourth Michigan fall camp with an air of confidence about him.

While most U-M fans had conceded the starting quarterback spot to either redshirt junior John O’Korn or redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight, Morris insisted it was definitely a three-man race and he was smack dab in the middle of it as a redshirt junior.

He even pointed to the words of head coach Jim Harbaugh and passing game coordinator and quarterbacks/tight end coach Jedd Fisch to prove his point.

“I know Coach Fisch, when he does his interviews and things, always mentions me in there, too,” Morris said at media day this month. “When we finished spring, all our grades, because we do it based off a QVR kind of thing, and Coach Harbaugh made a grading scale.

“All three of our grades were very close, miniscule differences and that’s what they said going into camp, all three of us were starting off as equals and see who performs and see who worked hard in the summer.”

But when Morris, who has two years of eligibility remaining, met with the media on Friday there was a different kind of aura coming from the former Warren De La Salle star.

Although he did not seem resigned to the fact that either Speight or O’Korn would be the starting and he was being shown the door, he might have hinted that he was being handed his hat.

No longer was Morris the brash young hot shot who, in his mind at least, expected to show up in Ann Arbor in 2013 as a first-year freshman and replace Devin Gardner as the starting quarterback.

That was his first wake-up call at U-M.

“Obviously, when you’re in high school, and my entire life I’ve never not been the starter,” he said recently. “When I got in my freshman year and didn’t win the starting job, so it was a little frustrating and kind of knocks you down to reality a little bit.”

Quarterbacks, from left, Morris, Wilton Speight and John O’Korn go through practice drills. “I’ve become a much happier person,” Morris says of his maturity.

He admitted that his three years at U-M have definitely changed him.

“In high school, as you guys know, I was kind of out there and pretty cocky,” he said. “I liked the attention, I guess. As college has gone on, you kind of learn to put things in front of yourself and not make yourself the most important. You kind of realize you’ve got other things are way more important, like other people, and you’ve got to put yourself third.”

That attitude readjustment might have been the byproduct of not playing well when given the opportunity. And then there was the fiasco when he suffered a concussion on national television and was reinserted into the game. It created a firestorm that erupted into a national story, complete with a student protest on the U-M diag.

Perhaps the combination of all of that might have indeed humbled him and even changed his perspective on football and life.

“I feel like I’ve done that. I’ve become a much happier person, enjoying life and really taking all it has to offer,” Morris said. “As that, I think I’m becoming better as a quarterback. I’m not focused on just being the starting quarterback, making the perfect play. Other things in life matter. That’s definitely helped me as a player.”

This is a stirring revelation from the highest-ranked quarterback in the program, who committed to U-M before his junior year in high school and became the face of U-M’s 2013 recruiting class.

After his senior year at De La Salle, elevated Morris from a four-star recruit to a five-star, and U-M fans expected him to play like a five-star guy.

Paul Verska, Morris’ coach at De La Salle, is stunned that Morris isn’t U-M’s starting quarterback. He points to the three offensive coordinators and two head coaches Morris has played for at U-M as among the problems.

“In my opinion, I don’t think he’s ever really had a chance to show people what he could do,” Verska said. “If he played as long and in as many games as Devin Gardner, I don’t think he’d have thrown as many picks. But that’s my opinion and I’m prejudiced.”

Verska is prejudiced and perhaps a bit delusional. After Morris’ senior year he told the Detroit News that he was the best high school quarterback in the country.

But was Morris that good, or was he the byproduct of Internet recruiting sites like and, which are responsible for ranking high school players?

Tom Lemming is the nation’s preeminent recruiting expert. He began his scouting service in 1978 and, in addition to his prep football report, has a recruiting show on the CBS Sports Network.

He remembers Morris as a high school player and ranked him a four-star-plus recruit entering his senior season. Following the season he ranked him at four stars.

“Actually, he was real good as a junior,” Lemming said. “I had him ranked pretty high, but I lowered him because he didn’t play much as a senior. He was in my top 10 quarterbacks heading into his senior year, but at the end of the year I didn’t have him in the Top 10 anymore.”

Morris’ troubles began in his senior season, which followed a winter, spring and summer of traveling the country, competing at combines, 7-on-7 tournaments and invitational camps where he knocked the socks off so-called recruiting gurus with his cannon of a left arm.

But his senior year was a mess. After playing well in an opening-night victory over Ann Arbor Pioneer, Morris completed only 9 of 22 passes for 104 yards and an interception in a 49-13 beat-down loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius.

Two weeks later he was removed from a 28-0 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice and it was revealed that he was suffering from mononucleosis, which caused him to miss the next three games.

He played in La Salle’s final two games and finished the season with a total of 62 completions on 119 attempts for 766 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions.

Those are the senior statistics of a five-star recruit?

Lemming believes Morris was a victim of the hype machine surrounding combines, 7-on-7s and invitational camps.

“They’re in their shorts and T-shirts, and they’ll give them rankings running around an orange cone,” Lemming said. “But you can’t tell how great a football player they are until you see them under competition.”

And by competition, Lemming means actual high school games, not 7-on-7s.

“Every year there’s good number of kids that are fantastic ‘workout warriors,’ I call them,” he said. “But when you see them on film they’re just average. There’s a good number of those kids around the country.”

That is the category Morris seems to have fallen into because what he did in high school games did not match his performances in the off season.

“He wasn’t a big, physical guy; he was average size,” Lemming said. “And his competition level was good, but not great. And he didn’t dominate. He looked real good as a junior, but not great and obviously, his senior year because of the health and not having a great year, no I’m not surprised at all.”

Well, Morris is surprised. He did expect to head to Ann Arbor and by now be preparing for his third or fourth year as U-M’s starting quarterback.

Instead, he spent part of spring practice as a receiver.

He will graduate in April with a degree in sports management. If things don’t work out this fall, Morris could well play his fifth year at a different school, just as Jake Rudock did at U-M last fall, when he left Iowa and beat out Morris for the starting job.

But his priority is still to be U-M’s starting quarterback.

Morris reiterated Friday that he believes he deserves the job, but acknowledged if he is isn’t the starter his world will not crumble.

That is something he never would have — or could have — said two years ago.

“No, probably not,” he admitted. “I’ve been through a lot, realized things are more important. Obviously football right now is the most important thing for me as the season being the starting quarterback, things like that. Football isn’t my life.”

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1. Free Press sports writer Mark Snyder contributed to this story. ​