Tyler Morris had already experienced so much.
The state of Illinois cancelled its 2020 fall high school football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Morris, ranked No. 14 wide receiver and No. 141th overall prospect nationally, was meant to be part a dynamic duo with elite quarterback JJ McCormick at La Grange Park (Ill.), Nazareth Academy.
McCarthy and Morris led Nazareth Academy’s appearance at the 2019 state title. They had aspirations to win it all. They were not granted the chance. McCarthy signed with Michigan in December after transferring to IMG Academy, a national powerhouse in Bradenton (Fla.).
Morris watched as high schools across the country took the field while Illinois had to wait. Finally, the announcement of a spring season of four games gave hope. It would not be a state title or magical season, but it was something.
Morris was a star on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball at Nazareth Academy. He was wide receiver for the offense and made many plays on the safety side. Morris notched two interceptions in Nazareth Academy’s final spring contest.
The second would be his last high school play.
“I was floating out trying to guard the receiver and went up for the ball,” Morris said. “I came down with it and felt my knee buckle. I don’t really know what happened after that, but I couldn’t walk on it or anything. I was hoping it wasn’t my ACL. I felt my bones kind of move, so I was hoping I just dislocated my knee. But I knew it wasn’t good.”
Morris remained motionless on field for about five minutes, before being moved to the Nazareth Academy training table. While his team continued to battle against Niles (Ill.), Notre Dame, Morris was left motionless for the next five minutes.
Morris was a fierce competitor by his nature and he looked depressed as his teammates touched his shoulder pads to show support. It wasn’t until after the game that Morris’ worst nightmare became a reality — the diagnosis was in fact a torn ACL.
Torn ACLs were once considered a serious injury for football players. However, full recoveries are common and many players go on to have great careers post-injury – arguably the greatest professional football player ever, Michigan Man Tom Brady, is still going strong after tearing his ACL back in 2008.
Morris’ father, Michael, knows a thing or two about the injury. Michael tore the ACL while he was in highschool. It was almost Déjà vu as Michael suffered the injury at the same age on the same leg.
“I just told him about the experience that I had,”Michael said. “You can recover from this. You can still play. There is just a lot of hard work ahead of you. We wanted him to keep his spirits up and refocus. It’s not the plan that we had, but things can change. Let’s not let this derail everything. The interesting thing is we had just talked about making it through the season without an injury just with it being weird with a shortened season.
“It was more of a ‘really?’ than an ‘oh crap.’ You hope for the best, but I kind of knew it was a torn ACL. Once it was confirmed, it was ‘let’s get it repaired and get back to work.’ It’s not like you can take back time. That’s really the only option.”
Morris’ mother, Shirley, had a bit of a different reaction.
“I was scared,”Shirley said. “I was worried what that would mean for him with colleges and his future. There was no question about him working and getting back. The question for me was would other people believe in him the same way we do.”
Tyler and his parents had a long conversation about Tyler’s future, and how they planned to handle the recruitment process moving forward. Tyler was at the time a Michigan lean, but was slated for an official visit to Notre Dame. He was also interested in programs farther away from home, such as Texas and Florida.
Tyler had his summer decision in mind but the injury forced the Morris Family to look at the recruitment process from a different perspective.
“It accelerated the process,”Michael said. “I wouldn’t say he enjoyed the recruiting process, but he was interested in what was out there. He had gone up to Michigan a couple of times, and that was his No. 1, but there was curiosity. He also wanted to see other campuses. When the injury happened, we sat down and talked about it.
“I said ‘we can reach out to the school that you’re interested in or we can wait and go through the rehab process and see who’s still interested.’ That was the first time Ty let us in and said Michigan was his No. 1.”
Tyler didn’t just tell his parents that Michigan was his favorite. He told his parents that he was ready to end the process and make a commitment.
“Anybody that knows Ty knows he’s matter-of-fact and logical,”Shirley said. “When everything happened, he said ‘nope, I’m done. I’m going to Michigan.’ We were like ‘slow down.’ He said he didn’t want to do anymore recruiting stuff and wanted to focus on rehab and school. He said ‘let’s call Michigan and pray they are still interested.’”
Tyler and his parents didn’t have to be worried.
“We called them and said this is what happened,”Shirley said. “They said it was no big deal. Let’s get your recovery going. It was a mixture of happiness and crazy calm. We’re done. We don’t have to be on six hours of Zoom calls every week. It’s over. We can focus on his rehab and Michigan. It was a sense of relief that we had a home.”
Tyler called the Michigan team and committed to the program on Monday (April 19). It was made public the following day. Michigan did not change its promise to help Tyler recover. Less than 24 hours after Tyler informed Michigan of his decision, Michael received a call from Dr. Asheesh Bedi, U-M’s Head Orthopaedic Team Physician.
Bedi, who is a researcher and has clinical interests in ACL injuries, connected Michael with Dr. Mark Bowen of the Chicago Bears. Bowen added up performing the procedure — much to the elation of the Morris family.
“(Michigan has) been pretty incredible,”Shirley said. “We asked them if they had a doctor that they would be better for us. They hooked us up with a doctor that they approved of and would work with our insurance. They’ve been super supportive in that regard. They talk to Tyler all the time and send us texts. They’ve been incredible.”
“They’ve been really supportive. They set me up with a surgeon. Coach (Josh) Gattis, Coach (Steve) Casula and Coach (Jim) Harbaugh all text me and check in with me. It was really cool that they set me up with a doctor that works with NFL guys. They’ve been really supportive and great through everything.”
Tyler mentioned that Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s head coach, has been there for him every step along the way.
In fact, Harbaugh was one of the first people to reach out to Michael on the day of Tyler’s surgery.
“The day Tyler had surgery, we were at breakfast, and the phone rang,”Michael said. “It was Coach Harbaugh. He asked ‘how is our guy doing?’ It’s those little things. He didn’t have to do that. He has 90 other things to worry about. But those little things go a long way in making you feel like family. It validates the decision that your child has made.”
Tyler was unable walk for three days following the surgery. Simple actions such lifting Tyler’s leg were the initial step in the rehabilitation process. It was all about ‘turning the muscles back on.’Tyler eventually learned to walk and to lift weights.
Under the direction of Dr. Randy Cybulski, he worked hard at his physical therapy sessions at PRO Sports & Spinal Rehab and maintained a positive attitude for the first few months.
“I was obviously disappointed,” Morris said. “For a day, I was in that mindset where I was just trying to absorb everything. After that, I tried not to focus on what I was going to miss. I’m focused on what I can control. I knew I was going to work through rehab and all of that.
“At first, it was just getting the strength up and getting my mobility back. The biggest thing was building the muscle. For a while after surgery and even now, my leg is a lot skinnier than the other one.”
The injury occurred in mid April. Now, Morris is running again and seems to be ahead of schedule. Morris still attends physical therapy 3 times per week, but he has recently started speed training with Josh Taylor. Taylor is a personal trainer and the owner of Chicagoland’s Xtreme Speed.
“I’ve mainly been focusing on upper body work and keeping him strong up top,”Taylor said. “When I got the clear to focus on more speed work, we worked on straight linear work. We’re waiting for the clear to do lateral and change of direction work. It’s more so been about acceleration and top end speed.
“He’s been looking good out here. He’s right up to speed. He’s opening up really well and his mechanics are back on point. He’s feeling confident in his knee during these drills. He’s going to be good to go. I’ve been really impressed.”
The next step is the rehabThis will include the above lateral movement work and change of direction work. Tyler was a skilled tactical route runner who was able to make big plays after catching the catch before the injury.
Taylor is anxious to ensure Tyler is ready for the big day, with just three months to go before he enrolls in Michigan.
“We want him to get as strong as possible,”Taylor said. “We want to get him flexible, mobile, quick and fast. We want to get him prepped for winter conditioning and spring ball. I honestly think he’ll be ready. He’s mentally tough and is a talented guy that works hard. When you have that combination, you’re going to be successful.”
Rivals250 wide receiver Tyler Morris is currently working with speed coach Josh Taylor.
Tyler could have easily put his head down — he had every reason to. Instead, he’s been working harder than ever before while maintaining a positive attitude. Tyler has never felt sorry and has fought every day to make it better. rehabWith an infectious enthusiasm that is unmatched by anyone.
“We’ve been amazed at his maturity,”Michael said. “We knew he would attack it. But he’s stayed positive through this. There is a certain emotional maturity that goes along with that. Sometimes, I sit back, and I’m a little astonished that this is my 17-year-old. I’m very proud of how he’s handled it.”
Tyler has been doing some work in his backyard, along with speed training and his physical therapy. When asked if he’s touched a football since the injury, Tyler grinned and proceeded to talk about his new Jugs machine, which ‘throws’Perfect passes to any spot.
With his little sister loading the machine, Tyler has been able to catch hundreds — maybe even thousands — of footballs over the last few months.
“We were going to go out for a commitment dinner, but my parents were like ‘how about we just get a Jugs machine’ instead,” Tyler said. “I haven’t been able to run routes or anything like that, but I have been in the backyard catching balls.”
Although jug machines can be expensive, the gift is well worth it. At least one parent thinks so.
“That was his dad,” Shirley quipped.
Michael laughed and explained his reasoning for going with the machine over some deep dish at Giordano’s.
“Prior to him getting injured, he had Boom (club 7-on-7) and other outlets for staying busy,”Michael said. “We talked about what we could do to get him focused and keep him busy. The Jugs machine makes sense. It will help with his recovery but doesn’t require a lot of movement. It will also help with his skillset — hands, catching the ball from different angles and things like that.”
Although it may not seem like it, the injury has been a blessing in disguise. Tyler has been volunteering as an assistant to his younger brother Quinn in Plainfield (Ill.).
Quinn, a freshman on varsity is enjoying a breakout season. He is quickly making a name in recruiting circles. Tyler has attended several practices and every game this fall. While Tyler certainly wishes he could be making plays on Friday night, he’s embracing his situation.
“As bad as it sounds, I can only focus on what I can control,” Tyler said. “It has been sad sometimes, but it’s also been cool to be back at public school with kids I went to middle school with and to watch my brother play varsity football, which wouldn’t have happened before. I’ve been going to his practices a lot and working with the receivers. I’ve been on the sideline giving him tips. It’s been good to be able to do that.”
Tyler will be able to transfer to Plainfield East and finish his high school classes in December. He can also enroll early at Michigan. This is something that would not have been possible if he stayed at Nazareth Academy which has restrictions on early graduation.
Tyler is excited about the opportunity to get a head start on his college career in Ann Arbor and can’t wait to get back on the field.
“Just being able to relax a little bit and knowing for sure I can go early is big for me,” Tyler said. “It was something we were trying to figure out at Naz, but now that I can for sure is a big weight off my shoulders. Now, I get an extra six months, where I can add weight to my body and get bigger, faster, stronger and learning the playbook. The biggest things are being physically and mentally ready before the season starts.”
Tyler has only played in three games since his sophomore campaign, due to the injury and the pandemic.
Tyler, who will be cleared in January, seems more motivated than ever as he prepares to embark on the next chapter. Tyler will be ready to take the field in The Big House when the time comes. That’s a guarantee.
“I’m the type of person that likes to prove a point and work hard,” Tyler said. “Being apart from everything pushes me that much more. I’m going to want to be on the field more than everybody. I’m focused on now, but in the future, it’s going to be about winning Big Ten championships and national championships and doing what I can do to help the team.”
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