No rookie has had a more improbable start to his professional career this season than Washington Redskins running back
Seemingly overnight, the unheralded Florida Atlantic product went from fighting for a roster spot during training camp to becoming one of the most productive ball-carriers in football.
The Pensacola, Fla., native was one-of-seven boys growing up, which he admits kept things very competitive.
"We all loved each other, but we would compete over everything. It was just part of our nature," he said. "You couldn't pay us to stay inside. We'd always be outside playing basketball, playing foursquare, playing football or running through the woods. We were always playing something and always competing.
“If you were an only child, man, I feel sorry for you. You missed out on a lot of good times with siblings."
While he's always been competitive, Morris believes there is a time and a place for that mindset.
"On the football field or when I'm playing a game, I'm a competitor," he said. "But at the same time, I have a heart for other people. Like if I'm playing someone in Madden and I know I can beat this person, I'll run a few bad plays or something to keep them in the game and make them feel better.
“I've just always been that way. I'd much rather make someone smile or lift their spirits up than just beat someone."
Local fans were thrilled to learn that Morris grew up rooting for the burgundy and gold as well. But how does a 23-year-old from Florida end up supporting the Redskins?
Well, when Washington acquired running back Clinton Portis from Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos, not only did they land one of the most productive rushers in franchise history – they also gained a new fan.
“I took a liking to the Broncos and the talented running backs they had,” Morris said. “And I really liked Clinton Portis because he had done such a good job for them, so when they traded him for [cornerback] Champ Bailey, I just followed him to Washington.”
Which makes it all the more impressive that Morris would go on to one day play for Shanahan as a member of the Redskins.
When Morris was selected by Washington in the sixth round (173rd overall), he was the 12th running back taken in the 2012 NFL Draft. And yet, after five games, Morris ranks fourth in the league with 491 rushing yards and is tied for second in the NFL with four rushing touchdowns.
"Most of the players who are successful under Coach Shanahan are free agents and low-round picks," said fullback
That sentiment has served Morris well during his brief time in Washington. Rather than worrying about who was drafted ahead of him or which teams passed him up, he’s simply chosen to focus on becoming the best running back he can be.
“If you have talent and work hard, they’ll find you,” Morris said. “Coach Shanahan found me in the middle of nowhere, so I’m definitely thankful that he did draft me and that I’m with the Washington Redskins. They were my dream team, so I was glad when they picked me.
“From where I came from, it definitely seemed impossible for me to get drafted and impossible for me to be a starter in the NFL,” he continued. “The entire draft process was nerve-wracking, but all of this is like a reward for all of the hard work.”
While Morris knows he took a roundabout way to get to the NFL, he is quick to say he wouldn’t change a thing about his journey.
“When you come from a smaller school like I did, you weren’t ever really given a shot,” Morris said. “We weren’t pampered, so we learned to appreciate things more. A lot of these guys who get drafted high get fat, in a sense. They get all of this money and it all starts going to their head. Some of them don’t know how to handle all of that.
“But underdogs aren’t highly recruited and they’re not high on anyone’s draft boards, so we’re never really satisfied,” he continued. “We’re constantly working and trying to get better. We don’t really pout when things don’t go our way, we just work harder to fight through it and overcome adversity no matter where it comes from.”
When Morris talks about not being highly recruited, he’s clearly speaking from personal experience.
“I honestly thought I was going to go to West Virginia to play linebacker,” he said. “But they got a new coaching staff and then Florida State told me I was too short to play linebacker. So I asked my mom, ‘How do I know which school is right for me?’ and she told me to pray about it. About a week later, everyone stopped talking to me except FAU, so everything just kind of fell into place from there.
“I’m glad I chose FAU and I’m glad everything happened that way,” he added. “I don’t think I would have had the same college experience anywhere else. That was exactly where I needed to be.”
Although his time on the defensive side of the ball ended once he opted to go to Florida Atlantic, Morris still cherishes his time as a linebacker and believes it makes him a more effective running back.
“There’s a physical side to linebacker that I enjoyed,” he said. “Now, I don’t get to tackle people anymore, so running somebody over or not going down on first contact is how I demand my respect. Some people think I’m a bulldozer, just trying to run people over. That’s not me. I’m just demanding my respect. If you’re in my way, I’m going to hit you and I’m going to hit you harder than you hit me.”
That mentality is what has made Morris stand out to fans and teammates since coming to Washington.
"The first man hasn't brought him down yet all season," said fullback Darrel Young. "I see a guy who works hard, but that's just what he does. It comes naturally to him. He's not doing anything because he's being coached that way. That's just his natural running style."
Because most defensive players are used to dishing out the punishment rather than taking it, there have been more than a few times when Morris has caught a defender off guard with his aggressive style of play.
“You could see right away he has a natural feel and can make people miss,” Shanahan said. “I like the way he practices every day because he goes out there with the mindset that he is going to give everything he’s got, if it is in the running game, if it is in pass protection, if it is picking up his responsibility.
“He is really a unique kid, he’s really down-to-earth and I think he has a big-time future.”
If Morris keeps working hard and can stay healthy, the coaching staff sure sounds like they believe this is the beginning of what he can bring to the table.
“I think Alfred – just like everybody – he’s getting better each week," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "He’s seeing more looks, he’s correcting his mistakes each week. I think he’s played very good for us each week and he’s gotten better each week.
“He’s a guy who’s very conscientious, never feels like he’s arrived. He’s working every day in practice, during walkthrough. He only goes one speed. We try to slow him down in walkthrough, but he’s just running as hard as he can. He’s always going to get better because he works at it.”
After everything he’s been through just to get here, there’s little reason to think Morris is going to let off the gas now. That’s great news for the Redskins – not so much for defenders trying to slow him down.