In the hierarchy of needs, it’s unclear who wins between Alec Morris and North Texas. Safe to say, they need each other.
North Texas needed a quarterback, and Morris might have the size (6-3, 233 pounds), accurate arm, maturity and the big-program experience.
Morris, a graduate transfer from Alabama, just needs to play.
It’s an interesting marriage, one new UNT coach Seth Littrell needs to see work. UNT was 1-11 last year and fired previous coach Dan McCarney.
“Alec has gotten a lot better since he first got here in January,” Littrell said Monday, when he announced Morris would start against SMU in the season-opener Saturday on ASN.
“His biggest strides were from spring ball to fall camp. You really saw his leadership ability. He did a great job of getting our guys out there this summer and holding guys accountable. It really showed in the first couple of weeks of fall camp. We were better than we ever were in the spring.”
After four years as a buried backup, Morris dropped into UNT’s lap. He has his business degree, and a second national championship ring (2012, 2015) is on the way.
Nice keepsakes, but Morris needs more. At ’Bama he never started but appeared in nine games — mostly victory formations — but threw one pass for a 6-yard completion last season. Hey, he’s 100% in college.
About an hour northeast of Dallas, Morris started two years (2010-11) for Allen High School, close to as big-time as you can get right now in Texas. Five years … that’s the last time Morris really played. Good luck finding much video since then.
“I’d heard of him,” said Littrell, adding a mutual coaching friend helped match Morris and UNT. “You don’t forget many in recruiting. He still went to Alabama. I’m pretty sure he came out and visited Arizona when I was [an assistant] there.”
Various reports had Morris deadlocked with Jake Coker after Alabama’s spring practice last year. Coker nudged ahead in fall camp, and Morris later fell to third team behind Cooper Bateman.
Eventually, Coker handed off to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry about 400 times. Translation: Alabama barely needed a backup quarterback.
Littrell and UNT offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, a former All-American quarterback at Texas Tech and a 2008 Heisman finalist, are learning what they have in Morris — among a hundred other things. Until now, old high school tape and the word of people they trust were mostly all they could go by.
Maybe UNT’s need for Morris was his biggest selling point. His age and unique experience for a transfer didn’t hurt. Those can be hard to replicate with freshmen or walk-ons.
“I think I’m too young (21) for life lessons at this point,” Morris said of any teachable moments the Mean Green could glean from him. “Just because things didn’t work out how I wanted them to, I kept working, and it didn’t make that work not worth it.”
Morris is hoping for a breakout season similar to former Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskell. A graduate transfer from Florida and the SEC, Driskel earned Conference USA Newcomer of the Year last season and has put himself in position this summer to make the San Francisco 49ers’ 53-man roster. He passed for 4,033 yards, ranking rank third in school history, and 27 touchdowns with only eight.
Morris said there were times he thought he was close to a breakthrough with the Crimson Tide.
“Absolutely,” he added. “It’s nothing I need to get into, but I always felt if I worked hard, good things would happen. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but it’s no one’s fault. That’s how life rolls sometimes.”
Five years ago recruiters tagged Morris as a pro-style passer, but Littrell and Harrell say the spread offense Morris directed at Allen High nearly mirrors the latest one at UNT. They believe he’ll fit fine. Another need.
“He throws a really good ball,” said Harrell. “He’s been accurate in these first practices. If you make good decisions and you’re accurate, you can be successful in this offense.”
Possible backups to Morris include a former Oklahoma State walk-on and two more guys who might be more suited for other positions. McCarney left UNT in need of quarterback depth. None of the eight or so he signed had success. The last one who did, Derek Thompson, was recruited by McCarney’s predecessor, Todd Dodge. DaMarcus Smith, who started six games last season, is no longer with the program.
UNT also needs impact players from a 1-11 team to put around Morris, especially some up front to keep him upright. Odds are that 6-9, 360-pound tackle Jordan Murray will be on Morris’ blind side.
“It’s a familiar feeling here,” Morris said of stepping into Harrell’s spread system. “It’s kind of weird. You spend four years in an offense like we had at Alabama, and it’s very different from high school. These practices have been pretty fun. I remember what I used to do back then, and it’s pretty familiar.”
UNT needs it all to feel familiar to Morris.
“He did a lot of good things at Allen,” Harrell said. “He goes to Alabama, and for one reason or another, it doesn’ t work out. Sometimes it’s not the right fit. Whatever the case was there, we’re fortunate to have him here.”