How Benjamin Morrison embraced his starting cornerback role at Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison has made such a quick impression on his coaches that he's already been compared to an NFL first round pick — twice.
Irish head coach Marcus Freeman first compared the former four-star from Phoenix to New York Jets first round pick Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, who Freeman coached at Cincinnati. Freeman did it again following Notre Dame' bye week when Morrison already had two starts under his belt.
"Did I think Ben Morrison would be starting as a true freshman? Probably not," Freeman said. "But he's a good football player and he's getting better."
It became evident early in Notre Dame's fall camp that Morrison, and fellow freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey, could be early contributors to the Irish's defense. Both saw action in the first two games against Ohio State and Marshall. Morrison made his first-career start in game three against California, a goal he had embraced since arriving on campus.
"It takes a certain type of human to play corner," Morrison said during fall practice. "You can be up one day, down another. I have adopted that (mindset) seeing Clarence (Lewis), Cam (Hart), TaRiq (Bracy). I have been able to learn from them. Here (at Notre Dame) you go against some of he best people in the nation at practice. This camp has really helped me develop into the player I am today."
Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens also played a major part getting Morrison up to speed.
Morrison said the Irish defensive backs have adopted the saying "Deny My Man," which has molded his mindset into a no-nonsense player.
"When you line up across from someone, as a corner you have to deny him no matter what," Morrison said this week. ... People think you are born with (that mindset), but you have to embrace it. You have to learn how to embrace that ... I am doing right now."
Even if Morrison has been learning on the fly.
In five games, Morrison has allowed four receptions on 11 targets for 70 yards, per Pro Football Focus and has been Notre Dame's third-highest rated cornerback this season behind only Bracy and Hart.
Morrison has had his ups-and-downs, like most young, developing players, beginning in the summer when he found himself running the wrong direction from the rest of his teammates during a drill.
"I still have hiccups on the field," Morrison said. "I still have many things I’ve got to clean up. So, I kind of look for those welcome-to-Notre Dame moments, just because of those things that I want to get out before Saturday."
In that first start against Cal, he allowed a 33-yard catch-and-run, which set up a touchdown drive. But In Notre Dame's latest win, 28-20 against No. 16 BYU in the Shamrock Series, Morrison didn't allow a single catch on his three targets.
"Ben Morrison is a guy that you can tell understands college football, the technical side of it, and he came in here, and he's blessed with God given ability," Freeman said. "Mentally he understands what it takes to have success at this level."
When Morrison was being recruited, numerous college coaches across the country took note of his football IQ. It was something he always seemed to have a leg up on other players his age.
Even as a 15-year-old sophomore at Brophy College Preparatory in Arizona, Morrison was diagnosing film at a higher level than other kids, breaking down formations, watching anything from his own games to NFL highlights, stuff, he says, most kids don't start doing until they get to college.
Morrison's preparation stems from his football beginnings, learning from his dad, Darryl Morrison, a former safety who played four NFL seasons with the Washington Redskins and has been a mentor to his son, even if Morrison doesn't want to give him too much credit for his quick rise in the Notre Dame secondary.
"(He) has molded me for this," Morrison said following Tuesday's football practice. "He never forced it upon me, so I knew if I wanted to do it, I have a great resource around. When I took advantage of the resource I had in my house, I just felt my game take another level, not even physically, just mentally. He played a huge role into where I am today."
Where Morrison is becoming one of the Irish's key defensive players.
"I had high expectations for myself coming into this," Morrison said. "I wasn't surprised. Just blessed for the opportunity."
Stanford (1-4) vs. Notre Dame (3-2)
- When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST
- Where: Notre Dame Stadium (77,660), South Bend, Indiana
- TV/Radio: NBC/Peacock, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM)
- Line: Notre Dame favored by 15½ points
- Series: Notre Dame leads series 22-13
- Last meeting: ND 45, Stanford 14, Nov. 27, 2021 in Palo Alto, Calif