James Morgan: Path to the NFL Draft

Green Bay, Wisconsin, is home to one of the most famous franchises in the history of sport. The Green Bay Packers are synonymous with the NFL. Even their former head coach’s name adorns the trophy awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl. They’ve played host to some of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Despite this, no home-grown hero has been drafted at the NFL’s premier position since 1988. James Morgan, a kid who grew up in the shadow of Lambeau Field, could be about to break that 32-year drought.

“It would mean a whole lot. It’s really been a dream of mine. I think that regardless of what happens, honestly, I just need an opportunity man. If I get it, if I’m drafted, that would be fantastic. If I’m a free agent. Wherever I get a chance I’m gonna do whatever I can to make the most of that opportunity. I’m just going to control what I can control. If I’m drafted that would be fantastic. I would love it.”

Finding a love of football from Brett Favre

The path to the NFL Draft started for James Morgan just a short distance from Lambeau Field. Surrounded by sporting inspiration in the Green Bay area, it wasn’t long before a young kid was finding inspiration and had the desire and drive to create his own football journey.

“Growing up watching Brett Favre, a legendary quarterback, that was just fantastic for me man. They were kinda right in my back yard. My school was about a mile or so away. Being able to see and feel that atmosphere around the town and watching Brett Favre do his thing really caused me to fall in love with the game at an early age. As early as I can remember. I’ve been a quarterback my whole life and I gotta attribute that to a young kid being inspired.”

If it was Brett Favre that inspired a young James Morgan, it was Brian Morgan that instilled the drive in him.

“My dad helped me a lot with my development when I was younger. He played, I believe DIII, he played running back. I attribute a lot of my success to him. He really pushed me when I was a young kid. I’m very thankful for that for sure.”

Ashwaubenon and James Morgan find success

James Morgan
Photo Credit: Hudl

The dream of making it to the NFL transformed into a goal during his time at Ashwaubenon High School. James Morgan had a standout high school career. His play earned him numerous honours including being twice named the Fox River Class Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Individual talent contributed to team success, with Ashwaubenon earning a Conference Championship in 2013.

“Ashwaubenon was right down the road from Lambeau Field. Some of my favourite memories were my junior and season year. They were both very good. We went undefeated in junior year and lost just one game my senior year. Those memories with the guys, being able to play with them and share those moments on the field are memories you’re never going to forget. Really, really enjoyed that.”

Ashwaubenon prides itself in preparing their footballers to succeed as adults. The experience helped shape James Morgan both on and off the field. He was a captain in both his junior and senior year, and that leadership role has helped build the character he has today.

“The biggest thing about being a captain is having the respect of your teammates. That’s definitely an honour. You put in so much work to try and earn that respect. That was a huge privilege for me. I really tried to lead by example as well as vocally, to try and motivate the guys to be the best they can be. The coolest thing about being a leader is being able to elevate the people around you and bring them to places that they didn’t think they could possibly get. Seeing that growth and that achievement is something that is very rewarding to me.”

The negative stereotype of Wisconsin football

After a standout career on the field for Ashwaubenon, James Morgan was rated as a 4* recruit by ESPN and 24/7 Sports as he looked to continue his football career at the college level. Despite being highly regarded by the biggest recruiting bodies, the major powerhouses of College Football weren’t beating down his door to capture his signature.

“I didn’t get too highly recruited, had like four MAC offers, NDSU and Southern Illinois were all the offers I had. I kind of think there’s a negative stereotype about Wisconsin football players which is unfortunate. There’s limiting factors right? Like it’s so cold, there’s no football in the spring and the competition isn’t as great as some of the places in the south. So, there’s this negative thought process around those people. To be able to hopefully change that perception is something that’s very meaningful to me. I certainly know how frustrating it was growing up and not getting the recognition that I felt was warranted. My recruiting path was a little bit of a chip on my shoulder in that respect.”

James Morgan gets his College Football shot at Bowling Green State

He accepted an offer to play College Football at Bowling Green State in the MAC. It was an easy decision for James Morgan, driven by a coaching staff he admired in Dino Babers and Sean Lewis, and a quarterback friendly offensive system. Before he could take advantage of that offense, however, he would have to spend a year on the sideline.

“Obviously you want to come in and compete right away. But there was a pretty experienced starter at that point, Matt Johnson, and he had a phenomenal 2015 year and led us to the MAC Championship. For me, learning from him and getting used to not only the routine of college but also the speed of the game, the different reads and everything like that. It was a great year and I took a lot from it, tried to be like a sponge and soak in as much information as I could. I thought it was very beneficial for me.”

James Morgan would take over the reigns as the starting quarterback of Bowling Green State in 2016. After a MAC Championship in 2015, it would be a more difficult year for the Falcons, and they struggled to a 4-8 record under a new coaching regime. Despite the team struggles, Morgan would find personal success. He became the first freshman quarterback in program history to throw for over 250 yards in four consecutive games. He also broke the record for freshman touchdown passes.

“I know our record wasn’t the best, but it was my first taste of college football. Just being able to have the things you mentioned [freshman touchdown record] was great for me. It kinda solidified what I’d been thinking that I belonged at this level, and that I could do it.”

James Morgan
Photo Credit: Bowling Green State

Building resilience and finding a new direction

If 2016 had been tough as a team, 2017 got even tougher for James Morgan. The Falcons went 2-10 and Morgan posted what would be college career lows in yards, completion percentage, and touchdown to interception ratio. Rather than stew on the year, he used it as a learning curve and allowed it to help him develop rather than regress any further.

“It was a great learning lesson for me and it was a great motivational path for me too. There was a point where, after that season wrapped up, it was the first time where the path that I’d envisioned for myself: High School, Bowling Green, NFL, really took a major dent and I realised that something was going to have to change if I wanted to get where I needed to go. I think during that time I really developed a resiliency in myself. I was very motivated after the season to prove people wrong That’s how I ended up going to FIU.”

James Morgan shines at Florida International

The transfer to Florida International University has been well documented during the NFL Draft process. Intent on finding a path to further his development, James Morgan entered the transfer portal but rather than just let teams find him, he actively sought to find a new home. Morgan emailed over 60 colleges explaining why he could play quarterback for their program. Just one emailed back. The rest, as they say, is history.

“Going to FIU, I would definitely say revitalised my career. 100% yes.”

The match was mutually beneficial. Morgan led the FIU Panthers to a school record nine wins in 2018 and the Panthers secured bowl eligibility both years he was there. He also set a school record for passing touchdowns (26) on his way to the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year Award in 2018.

Photo Credit: FIU

“The biggest thing was the best record. That team was really tough and tight knit, you know? Being able to be with those guys and have the success that we had in 2018 was very rewarding for me. It wasn’t something that was easily brought about. It was something that took a lot of hard work, with a lot of great guys and because of that work we put in, we were able to have the results that we did.”

Taking the opportunity on the NFL Network

After a successful 2018, James Morgan put NFL Scouts on alert. He was recognised by a number of pre-season watch lists. Those included the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas watch list. He was also recognised by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports in their pre-season All-CUSA teams, receiving a second team nomination in each. Although 2019 didn’t go the way the Panthers, or James Morgan, hoped for, he put himself further in the NFL shop window with a nationally televised game on the NFL Network.

“Having the game on the NFL Network was fantastic. Our game against Miami was on CBS Sports too. I think its great exposure because, obviously, sometimes we get overshadowed on Saturdays. To be able to get opportunities like that with some of the bigger networks gives people from our program to show we’ve got on the big stage.”

It wouldn’t be the last time that James Morgan would have the opportunity to shine on the NFL Network. His performances through 2018 and 2019 earned him a call up to the East-West Shrine Bowl. The Shrine Bowl is one of the premier All-Star College Football games. Before he took to the field on Saturday, he had the opportunity to take part in one of the more special traditions that accompanies the Shrine Bowl, the Shriners Hospital visit.

James Morgan using football as a platform

“I had no idea the off-field stuff that was going to be involved with that. That’s really what made it so special. We came there and it was going to be all about football. I was going to impress scouts and do a great job. But being able to visit with those kids, interact with them a little bit, they’ve had things in their life that could be major setbacks for them. The positivity and inspiration that they showed was extremely inspirational for me. It was something that I took a lot away from. There are people that are less fortunate situations than I am. They could just shut down, but they absolutely do not. The energy they have was fantastic and it was just great to interact with them. I got a lot of inspiration for me.”

The experience at the Shriners Hospital was a continuation of the character building that started at Ashwaubenon. It’s followed James Morgan throughout his college career. He’s been recognised for his off-field efforts and it’s something that he plans on taking into the NFL with him.

“I think as a platform, as a football player and hopefully someone who’s in the NFL, you have a lot of people watching you. You have a great opportunity for giving back to the community. That’s something that I’ve tried to do in my college career, and when I get to the NFL it’s something that I want to be known for. I don’t think you can understate the importance of something LeBron said: “you’re more than an athlete”.

NFL Draft stock rises at the Shrine Bowl

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

On the field at the Shrine Bowl, James Morgan led the East Team to a 31-27 win over the West, also leading the team in passing yards and contributing a touchdown. It was a commanding performance that further enhanced his reputation and NFL Draft stock.

“The Shrine Bowl was a great opportunity for me as a kid from a smaller school to be able to compete with the Power Five competition and I really felt like I belonged there and I really feel like my skill set can match up with anyone in this draft class. To be able to go there, throw it around and compete, it was great. From another aspect, it was great preparation for the Combine. The interviews and the process were very similar for both of them. Being there definitely prepared me coming into Indianapolis for sure.”

James Morgan headed into Indianapolis with his NFL Draft stock on the rise after a successful week at the Shrine Bowl. With an impressive performance in Indianapolis, teams and analysts alike are starting to wake up to his potential. During the NFL Combine week NFL Network’s media insider Ian Rapoport likened Morgan’s career trajectory to that of NFL rookie sensation, Gardner Minshew.

“I saw that! It’s a very interesting comparison. On one hand, I’m not entirely familiar with his history but the places he’s been to and the resiliency he’s shown in getting to the NFL. Not a lot of people believed in him, and now he’s a starter in the NFL. I can identify a lot with that, there’s a lot of similarities to my football career. But then on the other hand, I think there’s only one Gardner Minshew, he’s very unique. I want to be known for being James Morgan.”

Being James Morgan

He’s had interviews with multiple teams at all stages of this NFL Draft process and will get the opportunity to do so again at the Florida International Pro Day on April 1st. What will “being James Morgan” mean to the team that takes a chance on him?

“I absolutely love football and I’m going to work as hard as I can, in whatever role it is, for an organisation to win games. It’s something I absolutely love doing. I pride myself in my preparation and work ethic through the week to be as ready as I can for Saturdays, and now for Sundays. I’m going to do anything in my power to help a team win, because I love the game so much.”

It’s been 32 years since a quarterback was drafted from Green Bay. What would it mean to James Morgan, a boy who grew up a Packers fan, inspired by Brett Favre, who had to go all the way to Florida to show he belonged in the football world, to come full circle and become a Green Bay Packer?

“It’s a childhood dream to play for them. If I get drafted by the Packers, that would be fantastic. I would love that! But, if I get drafted or picked up by any other team then I’ll give everything I’ve got for that team.”

OLIVER HODGKINSON

COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER

OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.

Feature Image Credit: Green Bay Gazette

Huge thanks to James Morgan for taking the time to speak to us. Also, thanks to Sara Latronica at OTG for her help connecting us.