FAYETTEVILLE — Senior linebacker Grant Morgan leads the nation in tackles and also is a semifinalist for the Butkus Award.
While some are surprised at the success this former preferred walk-on from Greenwood High School is having, don’t count Morgan among those. When asked if he ever could have imagined this five years ago he had an interesting answer.
“Yes,” Morgan said. “People are going to be like, ‘Oh, he’s too confident.’ But yes. I’m 100 percent — you can ask my dad, you can ask my wife now. You can ask probably Brooks Ellis when I was a little redshirt freshman and he was named to the award watch list for the Butkus, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to end up winning that one day.’ Or, ‘I’m going to end up being on that thing.’
“I hate that it was five years later instead of two, but I definitely could see this. But I’ll tell you right now, it’s not for me. The reason why I’m on this is because of the 10 people around me. If we weren’t winning games or we weren’t having the defense standing that we have, I wouldn’t be on that.
“Jalen Catalon, if he wasn’t on the team, I wouldn’t have that. Bumper Pool, Jon Marshall, so … I’m just a product of what the people that are around me. I’ve been lucky to be put in the spot that I am. I definitely would have said I’d be on this, because I have a lot of confidence in the players around me, too.”
Since COVID has been a huge factor in this country since March, the NCAA is allowing seniors to come back for another season regardless of how much they played this season. Is that something Morgan is considering?
“I knew I’d get asked that question here soon,” Morgan said. “So yeah, definitely, every single option right now is getting weighed in my head and I know it’s getting weighed in every other person’s head. I know there are some who have probably made their decision already and there’s some who are still on the fence. For me, I’m going to weigh every option. I have a lot of options, which is good for me, but I wish someone would tell me this is exactly what you’re supposed to do and make it easy for me.
“It’s definitely going to be something that, Coach (Sam) Pittman is a great recruiter. Y’all know me, I’ve never really been recruited. I was kind of the guy who always said, ‘I want to go here and prove you wrong.’ I’m just going to worry about that after the year, or after the season, so I can focus on these couple games. I know that’s what everyone else is doing. They’re just focused on Missouri right now and getting a win there. But it’ll definitely be a fun offseason. It’ll be a different one, I guess, for everybody.”
When at Greenwood, Morgan played for Rick Jones, who is now at Missouri. Morgan and the Hogs will face Missouri on Saturday.
“But Coach Jones, I love the guy,” Morgan said. “He helped me be who I am today. But I’m hoping Saturday I show him that what he helped make is not a good thing for them and a good thing for us. I love Coach Jones.”
Junior linebacker Bumper Pool is alongside Morgan at linebacker this season. He has a lot of respect for Morgan.
“So, Grant actually hosted me on my official,” Pool said. “So, he was the first person I knew up here. And then throughout the years I’ve lived with Grant. We were roommates for a time before he got married and moved on. Me and Grant, we’re — I hang out with Grant more than anybody. We’ll come up to the facility. We’ll watch film. We’ll go eat lunch together, come back, treatment. Everything is with Grant during the week. So, I love him and I’m so excited for all the awards he’s getting and it’s worth it. He works harder than anybody in the facility and it’s paying off.”
Morgan has made a nation-leading 104 total tackles while registering 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, one interception, five passes broken up and two quarterback hurries this season. He has recorded 15 or more tackles in four games, the most in a single-season at Arkansas since Ken Hamlin in 2002 and the most by an SEC player since Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers in 2015. Morgan has played behind some very good linebackers while waiting for his chance to have a season like this.
“Well, let’s look at the two guys who are in front of my in my career,” Morgan said. “So, Dre Greenlaw is now a starting Will linebacker for the 49ers. Then look at Scoota Harris who now just got activated for the Green Bay Packers, so I guess you could say it finally just had to come and had to wait. And hopefully I’m going to be there here soon, but it was rough. It was hard to sit there and be able to just know that I could be playing. Like, ‘I can do this.’ It’s just seeing how people are playing and like, ‘Okay, I can do that.’ But being able to learn from those two guys right there with Scoota and Dre, just being able to learn from them and seeing what they did really good and what they did bad and what they tried to do to fix what they do bad, it really helped me become the guy who I am now, especially on the field.
“And especially how I handle myself off the field, just how they watch film and how they study. Like me and Dre, we’d just sit there and talk about things like that before games. So, it definitely was hard to see that my opportunity was just getting longer and longer away, but I wouldn’t ask for it any other way. I said that like, ‘Aw, I wish it was two years,’ but at the end of the day I can’t change anything and I’m glad it’s here now. Hopefully we make some more of it this weekend.”
Pittman is certainly pleased to have Morgan on his first team at Arkansas. Pittman talked about what he thinks makes Morgan so good.
“Well, he’s slippery,” Pittman said. “He slips blocks a lot. Plays extremely hard. He’s very prepared when he goes in to a game. He spends a lot of time in the film room and a lot of time with his coach getting prepared for the game. He tries to play the game before it happens. You know he tries to see tendencies and things of that nature before it happens. He’s just a very intelligent guy who loves to play. Walked on here. Loves to wear the Arkansas across his chest and plays extremely hard. That’s it. He’s smart, plays extremely hard and well prepared.”
Morgan added to what Pittman said about being slippery and offered up what he thinks has made him so successful.
“I’m shifty,” Morgan said. “I’m a little slipper, I guess. Pittman always calls me, ‘You’re slippery.’ But my biggest thing is I like to say I’m really smart. I like to play the game before it’s played already. I like to be on their side of the ball knowing what they’re going to do. I like to use my instincts. I’m real instinctual, but like I said, the only reason it’s been a great year is because of the people around me. They’re doing a heck of a job. I’m telling you, J-Marsh deserves any award that can go to a defensive tackle because he’s done really good this year and he’s what’s made us good.”
Morgan and the Razorbacks will face Missouri at 11 a.m. on Saturday and televised on the SEC Network.