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Former Jacket Morgan on the rise as draft day approaches
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These days, everything seems to be moving in slow motion for Derrick Morgan, and the former Coatesville (Pa.) High standout who last season was named Associated Press all-American and defensive player of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference is not complaining. After all, he’s been going at warp speed since he played his final football game for Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

The day after Morgan peeled off his Yellow Jackets colors for the last time Jan. 5, he turned 21. On Jan. 9, he reported to the Athletes Performance Institute in Phoenix for six weeks of intense training for the NFL scouting combine. There was his Pro Day at Georgia Tech on March 15.

Mixed in with all the poking and prodding and measuring and timing by pro football personnel were interviews with 19 teams — 13 in one night at the combine — and a half—dozen visits to NFL practice facilities for more interviews and further scrutiny.

“Aside from that, it’s been kind of boring,” Morgan said with a laugh during a recent phone interview from Atlanta, where he lives with his mother, Pamela Wooden. “It’s been hurry up. Now it’s wait.”

The wait should be well worth it, because Morgan, a 6-foot-4, 272-pound defensive end with an explosive first step, is expected to be taken in the upper half of the first round in Thursday’s NFL draft. Most of the mock drafts, a cottage industry, have Morgan going anywhere from No. 8 to No. 14 in the first round.

“I don’t put much merit in mock drafts, but it’s hard not to know what they’re saying because they’re on TV every day,” he said.
Wherever he goes, Morgan will learn firsthand from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, because he’s been invited to Radio City Music Hall in New York for the occasion.

“I’m really getting anxious,” he said. “I keep dreaming about it every night. It’s getting closer and closer. It’s almost like a dream coming true. I don’t think I’ll be nervous. I realize it’s a blessing just to be in this situation. I’m looking forward to it.”

Morgan is among a record 53 underclassmen who entered the draft. He said it really wasn’t a difficult decision to leave school after his junior year after he spoke with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.

“Coach Johnson told me if I was his son, he’d tell me to go,” Morgan said. “He knows some head coaches in the league, and he talked to them to see where they had me ranked. And it was something I was thinking about at the beginning of the season my junior year. I just figured I’d play it out and see what happens. If I had enough success, it made sense to come out. I had a pretty good year at Tech.”

Morgan was being modest. He had 12 1/2 sacks, 18 1/2 tackles for losses, and he forced two fumbles. As a sophomore, he had four fumble recoveries. With his combination of speed and strength, he has drawn comparisons to the Giants’ Justin Tuck.

Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer called Morgan a “freak” because “he can stop the run. He can pass rush. He can drop back in coverage. He plays with passion the whole game — a pure athlete.”

Morgan’s passion for the game began when he was a 9-year-old who was so much bigger and faster than the other kids his age in flag football that he had to play against older boys or someone might get hurt. His coach at Coatesville High, Tom Nichols, knew he had someone special the first day Morgan showed up at practice.

“He was outstanding. Motivated. Very mature,” Nichols said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He never had issues off the field. He was captain, a leader, not a very vocal kid, but he led by example. He’s a real quality young man.”
This couldn’t happen to a nicer kid.”

At Coatesville, Morgan played running back, defensive end, linebacker and some tight end. Nichols recalled moving him to defensive end a couple days before Morgan’s first scrimmage as a sophomore.

“We were top heavy at linebacker that year, and he obviously could run really well,” Nichols said. “He was probably 215, 220 pounds at the time. A scrimmage was Saturday morning, and we moved him to defensive end on Thursday. I remember a player was running away from him, and he chased him down from behind and made the tackle right in front of me, and we were like, ‘Wow, this looks like a good idea.’

“A gentleman named Bill Richards was coaching the defensive line. He said, ‘Wow, I’ve just become a better coach.’ Derrick was one of those kids you could put anywhere and he’d be successful. He’s the best I’ve coached.”

Morgan said he is 24 credits shy of a degree in business management. Even though he stands to soon become a millionaire, he insists he will return to school to get his degree.

“Definitely,” he said. “I’m not going to waste the three years I was there.”

Morgan recently stopped by Georgia Tech’s campus to pick up his ACC championship ring. First, though, he had to pay $50 for the helmet he took with him after the Orange Bowl.

“I had to pay my $50 because I took my helmet at the end of the game,” he said with a laugh. “So I had to pay it to get my ring. They said you have to pay the $50 sooner or later. They were pretty cool about it.”

Right to the end, Derrick Morgan gave Georgia Tech its money’s worth.
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