C.J. Morgan is taking care of business this season
Parkway senior C.J. Morgan has been a busy young man this fall.
First and foremost, there’s school. Morgan plans to graduate in December and enroll at Mississippi State in the spring. In addition to classes, he’s working on his Senior Project which will include a football camp and a paper on sports-related injuries.
Then there’s football practice weekday afternoons leading up to the the Panthers’ games, usually on Fridays. If that’s not enough, he works five days a week at Zaxby’s on Barksdale, putting in 27-30 hours.
Oh, he is also the announcer at Elm Grove Middle School home games.
Before he arrived at Parkway as a freshman, Morgan was a football star at Elm Grove. Being a middle school standout doesn’t necessarily translate to being a great high school player. But Morgan, a big-play running back and receiver, is definitely that and then some.
He is one of the main reasons the Panthers are 6-1 after defeating Booker T. Washington last week. Parkway hosts parish rival Haughton Friday.
So how does Morgan manage to balance school, work, football and everything else?
“Honestly, I have no clue,” he said with a laugh. “At Zaxby’s, I have great managers. They are very lenient and understanding. If a dilemma comes, like, ‘Hey, we just got our practice at 4:30 and I’m supposed to come in at 5’, they say, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ ”
Morgan, the son of Courtney Walker and Marcie Morgan, said it’s basically all about managing time well. Morgan has been a starter for the Panthers since his sophomore season. He played cornerback in 2013, the year Parkway reached the Class 5A state championship game.
“From the time he came to us, I would say he was kind of immediately set apart,” Parkway coach David Feaster said. “He always kind of seemed like he understood the game maybe a little bit better than the other guys. He understood the importance of the weight room and the track and the idea of being more athletic than everybody else.”
Last year, Morgan played defensive back again but Feaster also put him in at receiver some. With the Panthers hit hard by graduation at the skill positions, Morgan made the move to offense this year.
“There was never a moments hesitation,” Feaster said. “He embraced the change. He knows too we’ll use him some on defense before the season’s over with.”
Morgan said there was a little trepidation about the move. It wasn’t brand new, though.
In pee wee ball and at Elm Grove, he played in the offensive backfield and at receiver.
“At first I didn’t want to do it at all,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why are they moving me over here?’ But that was just a selfish aspect. I had to realize the bigger picture which was to help the team.”
At the beginning of the season, Morgan split out wide. But a few weeks in, Feaster moved him to fullback in order to make it easier to get the ball in his hands.
“He was very excited about that,” Feaster said. “I didn’t know if he would be or not. He generally embraced that idea right away and when we got to the Byrd game we found out we really made the right move.”
In that game, a 20-6 victory in Week 5 over the previously undefeated Yellow Jackets, Morgan carried the ball 11 times for 70 yards and caught three passes for 89 yards, including a 39-yard TD just before the half.
Morgan said Feaster got the idea of moving him to fullback one day during practice. He noticed Morgan breaking tackles after catching passes.
“He said, ‘How do you feel about being a fullback?’ ” Morgan said. “ ‘Hey, I’ve never done it before but why not?’ So I think that’s four positions on offense I’ve played. Whatever’s best for the team.”
Said Feaster: “We were throwing to him but, the idea being, of course, when you’ve got a guy who is kind of a key guy, one of the better players, you just try to find as many ways as possible to get him the football. That was the motivation with him. Let’s move him to fullback. We can still throw it to him but we can just turn around and hand it off to him.”
Morgan is the quintessential big-play man, a gamebreaker. Through the first six games, he had at least one play of 35 yards or more in each game. In the first game against Bastrop, he caught a 13-yard TD pass in the waning seconds to help Parkway win.
In the Panthers’ lone loss to Evangel, he returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Morgan has the ability to make players miss with his moves. He can turn a short pass into a big gain. He’s also very fast in the open field.
But Morgan believes his biggest asset is his strength, which gives him the ability to shake off tackles
“I love to lift weights,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in the weight room.”
He credits his offensive line and offensive line coach Kevin Black with a lot of his success.
“They do a good job,” he said. “We’re not the biggest and we’re not the strongest, but we will work hard. Coach Black does a good job of helping us understand the scheme, understanding who to block.”
“I pretty much know where the hole is going to be, but when I get to the hole I pretty much depend on my strength and my speed. I think my grit and determination are probably my strengths.”
Morgan said another reason for his success is his relationship with quarterback Keondre Wudtee, a Louisiana Tech commit.
“Keondre’s been my quarterback since the sixth grade,” he said “Keondre knows how I think. I know how he thinks. Some of it’s indescribable. We just get it between ourselves.”
Morgan considers himself a leader by example. If he does something like get a first down or make a big play, he doesn’t make a big show out of it. He just puts the ball down and heads back to the huddle.
But if necessary, he will speak up. He said he tried to keep his teammates’ heads up when things went bad against Evangel. Feaster said Morgan learned to be a leader by being a good follower when he first
arrived at Parkway.
“When we had Brandon Harris and those guys leading he fell in step and did the things we asked him to do and what we expected of him as a sophomore.” Feaster said. “He just competed. So he continued to grow in that role and the first thing you know he’s the guy that everybody’s looking up to. I think he’s embraced that leadership role.”
Morgan committed to Mississippi State in January. He said it was the second offer he received after Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I automatically thought, like wow, this is an SEC school,” Morgan said. “They had this much faith in me. Right off the bat I felt some type of way about Mississippi State.”
During his sophomore season, he and a group of Panthers attended the Bulldogs’ game against Alabama in Starkville.
“I remember everything about it,” he said. “It was a great game. They lost 21-7, but the fans, the whole environment, it’s crazy. From that moment on I was like, I can really see myself playing here.”
He went back the next summer on Junior Day.
“I had already established a relationship with the coaching staff and I became familiar with some of the players, so we got to talking and they just all told me this is where you should go. This is a great fit because the program itself is coming up and (head) coach (Dan) Mullen is leading them in the right direction. It’s just a great place to me. With them telling me that I just realized this place feels like home.”
Before he heads to Starkville, Morgan and the Panthers have some unfinished business. Last year, Parkway had to sit out the playoffs because of LHSAA sanctions.
Regardless of how Parkway fares in their final three regular-season games, the Panthers will be in the playoffs. Morgan wants to do his part to help Parkway advance as far as possible.
That, and all his other activities, could keep him busy well into December.