FAYETTEVILLE — Senior linebacker Grant Morgan came to Arkansas from Greenwood as a preferred walk-on and now has the title of All-America by his name.
Morgan was named an All-America linebacker last season after compiling 111 tackles, including 40 solo, 7.5 for loss, two sacks, one interception (returned for touchdown), five pass breakups and two quarterback hurries in nine games. That was quite a season, but Morgan is getting some extra motivation this season from Kobe Bryant through a book.
“Funny story. I’m actually reading — I just finished reading a book called Winning by Tim Grover,” Morgan said. “He was the trainer for — he was the personal trainer for like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, big name guys. The fact that if you don’t have anything you’re trying to win every single day and trying to win every single practice, winning is everything. It’s exhausting.
“So that’s how I’m getting better. That’s how I’m trying to improve. I’m trying to win every single day. It’s not the little mantra like everyone says, try to go 1-0. Everyone hears that and goes out one ear. I’m trying to win. You can ask my teammates. I’ve gotten more intense in my workouts this year. I try to push more weight than anything.
“I know how good we can be. I know how good I can be. And the fact like everyone can work, everyone can work hard. You’ve got to find a way to set an edge. My edge this year is going to be knowledge and being able to push exactly how I did the past year, but I’ve got to adapt and change because the game’s changing, our defense is changing, everyone’s changing.
“To be able to be better and to be able to be better as a team we have to find our edge, and I think it’s been in this off-season how hard we’ve worked and finding every single day an aspect to win.”
Despite going from walk-on recruit to All-America player, Morgan hasn’t forgotten how it all started for him.
“First question, the walk-on, my pinned tweet on my Twitter is remember me as a walk-on, not an All-American,” Morgan said. “I live my life like that. I live my life every day as a walk-on. I’m not a flashy guy. I’m not anybody who’s going to be big time and try to make TikToks and all that stuff. I go to work. I do my job. I focus on football. That’s the only thing that matters to me when we get in that building and stuff.
“To be able to be — like I came in whatever, I didn’t win the Burlsworth. That set a big precedent in my head for what my goals are this year. I wasn’t the best. Obviously, I won a lot of things that I could have been happy about, but that was the only one that stood out to me. I didn’t win that.
“So I think that motivates me more than anything. Even if I did win it, I would try to find another way to find motivation, but I think that’s purely enough for me.”
Morgan is hoping to help the Hogs end some losing skids against such teams as Texas A&M (nine) and Missouri (five).
“In the losing streaks to A&M and Missouri, I know that means nothing for this year for me,” Morgan said. “I personally wish we could have won all of every single one of those. I think we could have won every single one of those. We didn’t, and that’s not an excuse at all.
“I don’t think that means a single thing for this year, and I promise you not a single player on our team is looking at it at all. We’re not looking back at all on those wins or losses we have against anybody. We beat Ole Miss last year. We don’t care. We don’t care about that at all.
“You could say we won or lost against Auburn. Everyone could say, Oh, they won, they lost, they won. We lost. Do not count the record. That’s another thing that happened in this book I’m reading this off-season. We don’t — there’s no excuses. What happened happened. The way we treat it and the way our players are attacking it, we’re going to win games. We’re going to try to focus on ourselves in the best way we can to win games.”
Morgan was one of two seniors Sam Pittman chose to bring to the SEC Media Days.
“Grant Morgan has his Master’s degree completed,” Pittman said. “He was a finalist for the Burlsworth Award. He also was first-team all SEC player, and he’ll be one of our 11 super seniors coming back. I’m excited for you guys to talk to him because he’s really, really a great young man.”
Just as Myron Cunningham did, Morgan had praise for the two defensive line transfers from Missouri, Markell Utsey and Tre Williams, as well as John Ridgeway.
“Those three guys are very good,” Morgan said. “This off-season they’ve done very well. Ridgeway is the type of guy we can go on a three down, and he can hold two gaps in the middle, and he’ll make mine and Bumper’s (Pool) life really easy. He can also be in a four down.
“The thing with the three of them, and I’ll say this now, they all three can play both. Their bodies fit both. They’ve played in both before.
“Utsey, or Markell — we call him Kell. Kell, he’s smart. He’s real strong. He’s physical. The way we’ve seen him, he’s really fluid in his hips. How he gets around the edge, he turns — they do a back drill where they flip their hips, and the way he flips his hips, it looks like he’s not 300 pounds. That’s really good to see that. He can play in, he can play inside.
“I’ll tell you right now, Tre Williams, he’s very impressive. I think we’re going to see him a lot off the edge this year just because that’s what we needed and that’s what we obviously needed to go get. But he’s helped that group. He’s helped Dorian (Gerald). He’s helped Sully. He’s helped them compete too, and he’s helped them like on what works for him, and so they try it out or something like that.
“He’s brought a lot of insight. They’ve all three brought a lot of insight. They’re going to be a good addition to our football team.”
Morgan is counting on roster development adding more depth to the football team this fall.
“Depth was a big issue for us last year, and I think one of the issues was us not defense specifically,” Morgan said. “We didn’t get off the field, so depth had to be there. If we didn’t get off the field on third down — our third down percentage wasn’t great. If we didn’t get off the field, then we needed depth. I think the first issue we had to focus on was getting off the field, and then you don’t need as much depth.
“The D-line has caused a lot of competition, as you spoke of. Getting new transfers in, grad transfers in, I think is huge because it puts a precedent that these guys are going to play right away. It makes these other guys who are here, like a Taurean Carter, Dorian Gerald, Isaiah Nichols, it pushes them to be so much better because they want to play now too. They think their time is now too, and it could be.
“Having older guys in one room together causes a lot of competition. Then for linebackers, me, Bump, Hayden — sorry. Me, Bumper Pool, Hayden Henry, and DD Edwards, four guys who continuously improve. We’re four guys who push the standard for the linebacker group every single day. The fact that we have those guys and the way they’re growing besides the older two, the way they’re growing behind us has been tremendous. They’ve had the best off-season they’ve had, and they’re our age.
“The guys below them, Andrew Parker, Jackson Woodard, Kelin Burrle has done really good. There’s a lot of good guys. I know I’ve missed some that I just can’t think about right now. Those guys are people who aren’t acting like their age. They’re maturing, but I think this off-season has really stepped up linebacker depth, and I think that we won’t have a dropoff. We’ll be able to rotate people in and be able to continue the standard that we want.”
Morgan and the Hogs will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 4, hosting Rice at 1 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.