Gimino: Sammy Morrison quickly following in dad's Arizona footsteps

Gimino: Sammy Morrison quickly following in dad's Arizona footsteps
Sammy Morrison. (Source: University of Arizona Athletics)
(Source: University of Arizona)
(Source: University of Arizona)
Anthony Gimino
Anthony Gimino

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Darryl Morrison is picturing the moment. It's not that far away now. He can see it. His son, Sammy, wearing dad's old No. 27, taking the field for the first time for the Arizona Wildcats.

"There are a lot of things in my personal life that I have been tremendously grateful for, but I don't think there is anything like seeing your children do something," said Darryl, a Desert Swarm-era cornerback for Arizona who played four seasons in the NFL.

"I know the emotions will be there. I'll just look him in the eyes and let him know how much I'm proud of him."

Sammy, a true freshman cornerback, has been one of the happiest stories of Arizona's fall camp. Early indications are that coach Rich Rodriguez and has staff has unearthed another underrated, undersized high school gem whose physical traits include a huge chip on his shoulder.

Morrison (5-foot-9, 166 pounds) worked with the first-team defense in the latter part of fall camp and started Saturday's scrimmage, impressing along the way with his instincts and feistiness.

"I have always been that little fast guy with skinny legs," Morrison said. "No one is ever expecting me to be able to hit as well as I do, but that's always been kind of my trademark. You see me ... I'm fast, but I like to pride myself on not being afraid to come up and make a tackle."

Morrison, depending on which recruiting service you look at, was either a two- or three-star recruit out of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. In any case, he was one of the least-heralded members of Arizona's 2015 class.

Part of that was because of his size. Part of that was because his recruitment never really heated up because other schools likely figured he always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps at Arizona.

"That was an easy one," Rodriguez said of getting a commitment from Sammy. "We didn't have to beg and plead and all that stuff."

Arizona looks as if it will enter the season with Morrison, converted junior receiver DaVonte' Neal and sophomore Cam Denson on top of the cornerback rotation. Yet to be seen if how quickly returning starter Jarvis McCall, a sophomore, can get up to speed after missing most of spring and fall camps because of various injuries.

Here is what defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel says about Morrison: "He's an athletic kid who is going to continue to grow physically. But he has a lot of instincts. He has a burst to the football. He understands how to play the game."

Here is what his teammate Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, a true freshman free safety, says about Morrison: "Man, that man is good. He's very quick. And he's very physical for how small he is. As (cornerbacks coach David Lockwood) says, that young pup will bite."

And here is what Darryl says about Sammy: "The thing I love about his game right now is the thing we talked about for a long time -- his preparation. He really takes a lot of time to consider what is being asked of him. He's trying his best to understand not just his position, but the entirety of the defense. The other thing I like about him is he's a mentally tough kid. He takes his lumps. In many ways, he's unflappable. He can get beat. He knows that. But he gets right back up and tries again."

Other than football, what Arizona fans might love about Morrison is his personality -- his smile lit up the room at the team's Media Day on Sunday.

Sammy's maturity at least partly stems from being around some of the game's greatest players, access granted because Darryl became an assistant chaplain to the Washington Redskins after his playing days. Sammy recalls going swimming in the pool of NFL Hall of Famer Darrell Green, watching film with him, calling him "Uncle Darrell." He has gotten to hang around another Hall of Famer, "Uncle" Art Monk.

"Just being able to get advice from them, and being around them, it's been really cool," Sammy said.

But nothing beats advice from Dad.

Darryl played at Arizona in 1991 and 1992 after transferring from Phoenix College. He was a noted trash talker in what might be the best UA secondary ever. All four starting defensive backs in 1992 -- Morrison, cornerback Keshon Johnson, and safeties Tony Bouie and Brandon Sanders -- played in the NFL.

Darryl's advice: Be yourself. You don't have to be like I was to be successful.

"I'm kind of embarrassed as I get older," Darryl said about the trash talking. "It worked for me. But I always tell him, always respect someone. That is totally the opposite of how I conducted myself. What I have instilled him is this -- respect everyone, fear no one."

The Morrison family moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Chandler last month, so dad will get to see his son embark on his Wildcat adventure in person. Being a small freshman cornerback in the Pac-12 is not ideal, but Sammy, heeding Dad's advice, vows that he's "not one to back down from a big challenge."

He's likely to be tested early and often when the season begins Sept. 3 vs. UTSA. And it might get a little dusty for Darryl at Arizona Stadium that night.

"I'm proud as a dad because he got 'As' in his first two summer school courses," Darryl said.

"And then just to see this kid come out and compete the way that he has and move from fourth team to where he's at least getting some run on the first team, I never would have dreamed this.

"Seeing my old No. 27 out there as a dad ... it almost brings you to tears."

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Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.