IOWA CITY | James Morris appreciates the journey.
From the day he committed to the Iowa football program in December of 2007 during his sophomore year at Solon High School to the collection of postseason honors he has positioned himself to be considered for as an Iowa senior, Morris takes nothing for granted and yet takes everything in stride.
“The time here, it goes by so quickly,’’ Morris said. “There will be a day when I have a chance to sit back and appreciate everything about the experience, but for now there is always another game to get ready for, more work to do.’’
In his fourth season as a starting linebacker for the Hawkeyes, the quality of Morris’ work both on and off the field ranks him among Iowa’s elite.
He ranks among the school’s career tackle leaders and beyond taking his football career to the next level, law school is very much in Morris’ plans once his playing days are over.
Morris carries a 3.84 grade-point average as a political science and pre-law major at Iowa. He is among nine semifinalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, 12 finalists for the Wuerffel Trophy and on Dec. 10, he will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation as one of 16 recipients of its National Scholar-Athlete Award.
“I’ve always approached the things I do with the idea of doing them to the best of my ability,’’ Morris said. “I don’t know any other way to go about it. I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of good people in my life and I’ve tried to learn from every one of them.’’
Morris grew up around the Hawkeye program.
His father, Greg, has been around the program for the past 35 years and has worked since 1988 as Iowa’s equipment manager. On occasion, James Morris and his brother Jake would get a chance to help their father out and spend an off day from school hanging out at the Hayden Fry Football Complex.
“That was pretty cool, getting to hang out with my dad and be around here,’’ James Morris said.
Saturday, Morris will meet his father and his mother, Lynn, on the field as part of Senior Day activities at Iowa and he expects it to be an extension of a shared experience.
“It’s been a luxury for me all of these years,’’ Morris said. “Not many people have an opportunity to see their parents every day when they are in college, whether they want to or not. It’s something I’ve enjoyed and I know I’ll miss it when it’s gone.’’
Morris is among three senior linebackers who will start their final home games at Hawkeyes on Saturday when Iowa hosts Michigan at 11 a.m.
He joins Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey among a collection of 10 senior starters and three linebackers have contributed on the field almost since the day they arrived at Iowa in the fall of 2010.
Each found their way onto the field as true freshmen, Morris and Kirksey as linebackers and Hitchens working his way to his current spot after stops in the defensive backfield and at running back.
The three have found a home side by side as linebackers for the past two seasons and have anchored the Hawkeye defense this season.
“When you play together for so long, you develop a sense for where each other is at on the field and what each other is thinking,’’ Hitchens said. “We’ve worked pretty well together.’’
Collectively, they have helped Iowa rank ninth nationally in total defense, allowing 319.2 yards per game, and the three linebackers top the Hawkeye tackle charts.
Hitchens leads the team with 87 tackles, while Morris has 81 and Kirksey has 80 stops on the season. Hitchens and Morris share the team lead with 10 tackles for a loss, while with five sacks Morris is positioned to become the first linebacker to lead Iowa in that statistical category since Iowa began keeping the statistic in 1986.
“Mostly, I just like to play football,’’ Morris said. “I never have got too caught up in the numbers. There will be time to think about all those things. Right now, the focus is so much on the next game and the next opponent that I don’t think too much about those things.’’
Morris and Kirksey, who leads the Hawkeyes with two fumble recoveries and six quarterback hurries, rank among the most prolific tacklers in Iowa history.
Morris has 374 tackles in his career, seventh on the Hawkeye career charts, and Kirksey shares the 17th spot with 291 stops. Hitchens sits in the 33rd spot with 245 tackles.
“The three of them, they played pretty well a year ago and they’re playing at a much higher level this year,’’ coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The deeper story to me is the leadership they’ve given and leadership is all about what you do in terms of demonstrating your commitment. Those guys really practiced hard last spring, certainly in camp and they’ve played well all year long because they work at it.’’
Ferentz said that work extends beyond their individual contributions on the field.
“They’re really good, team-oriented guys, good with the younger guys, good with the older guys. Anything we’re doing, they are in the front and I’m talking about things away from football, too,’’ Ferentz said. “We’ve had some really good linebackers here, but I can’t say enough about those three.’’
Kirksey expects Saturday to be an emotional day.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of memories running through all of our minds. That’s natural,’’ Kirksey said. “We’ve all experienced a lot here and we’ve all played a lot of football together. It’s just an honor to have one more game at Kinnick. It should be fun.’’