The NCAA statisticians have done little for offensive linemen in a sport that’s been played for more than a century.
Sure, coaching staffs offer a grade after each game and count pancakes and assign blame on sacks and penalties, but those are counted internally within a program. There are no official individual stats offered for the offensive line. Even their defensive counterparts get credit for numbers like tackles, pass deflections and something called “hurries”.
So we are left assuming that lots of points and lots of yards (especially rushing yards) equates to solid offensive line play.
South Dakota football surely had that throughout Chris Morton’s career and it’s ultimately why he is a no-doubt-about-it Hall of Fame choice and will be recognized as such in a ceremony Friday night.
Morton, who grew up in Norfolk was the Coyotes’ three-year starting center from 2005-07 and earned several starts as a freshman in 2004. He is a two-time all-American and was the Rimington Trophy winner in 2006 which is given to the best center in Division II football.
And since we don’t have fancy individual statistics to highlight Morton’s dominance at his craft, allow me to point to something that we believe tells the tale.
You read last week about the 2005 football team that remains one of the best offensive teams in Division II history. Stefan Logan, Hall of Famer and NFL veteran, rushed for 1,751 yards and 11 touchdowns on that team. Fast forward two years later when another running back, Amos Allen, ran for 1,961 yards and 15 touchdowns in the same amount of games. What did they both have in common? Chris Morton.
“First, being inducted into the Hall of Fame is an extremely humbling thing,” said Morton. “As a player, you never really think much about stuff like that, you’re just trying to be the best you can. And especially with football being a team sport, you’re just thinking about what you can do to help your team win and make your team better and have success.
“Our stats were the success of our other teammates — the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers — and the stats they piled up were what we wanted. I played with a lot of really good players, most importantly on the offensive line, but also with a lot of skill guys that probably made us look really good.”
Spoken like a true offensive lineman…
Our stats were the success of our other teammates – the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers – and the stats they piled up were what we wanted. I played with a lot of really good players, most importantly on the offensive line, but also with a lot of skill guys that probably made us look really good.
Morton was just a sophomore on the line of that 2005 team and surrounded by four seniors. It was one of those seniors who may have impacted Morton’s collegiate career more than we know.
Morton played center at Norfolk High School, but was moved to tackle when he arrived at USD. He redshirted the 2003 season, which allowed him to adjust to the speed of the college game, focus on fundamentals and improve his physique.
In 2004, Morton was second on the two-deep at right tackle to Brian Alderson, a Coyote Sports Hall of Famer, when an injury to starting center Todd Bladt occurred midway through the season.
“Brian went to our coaches, who weren’t on staff when I was recruited, and said ‘hey, you know (Chris) played center in high school, maybe we should take a look.’ Coach (Glenn) Caruso brought me in the next day and said, ‘did you play center in high school?’ I told him I did and he just told me he might practice me a little bit at center and see what happens.
“Right before our next game at Augie, Coach Caruso told me to be ready to go. We were kind of sputtering in the first half so he threw me in there, and the rest is history.”
Indeed. No more tackle talk for Morton. He earned the center job for good in 2005 and competed in 40 games throughout his career.
It was the 2006 team that broke through and made the program’s first playoff appearance since the national runner-up team 20 years earlier. The Coyotes beat Northwood before falling to eventual national champion Grand Valley State.
It wasn’t until after the season in January that Morton learned he had won the Rimington, and at the time, he didn’t know such an award even existed.
“In my mind, I was lucky to be an all-conference-type guy, but coach just approached me one day and said that I’d won the Rimington Award,” said Morton. “I didn’t even know they had that in Division II. So the whole thing for me is that my teammates made me better, and I hope I made them better, and in my mind, that’s where those awards come from.”
Morton worked for the attorney general for Missouri for about 10 months after graduation before ending up in the compliance office in the athletic department at University of Missouri. There, he built a relationship with the football coaching staff and ended up signing on to be a graduate assistant coach. Then he took an assistant coaching job at Coach Meierkort’s old stomping grounds, Wisconsin-Stout. Morton recently finished a five-year stint at Missouri State and is now working for OCI Insurance in Omaha.
At the beginning of this story, we mentioned statistics and some of the talented skill people the Coyotes boasted at the start of the Ed Meierkort era. We mentioned Allen’s historic rushing numbers which still hold as the best single-season tally in program history. But at the end of that 2007 season, it wasn’t Allen who was named South Dakota’s Offensive Player of the Year. That award was given to Morton, and that speaks volumes about this newest member of the Coyote Sports Hall of Fame.
“My teammates made me better, and I hope I made them better, and in my mind, that’s where those awards come from,” Morton said.