IOWA CITY - Of the couple of dozen freshmen who reported for practice with the Iowa football team this week, there was one who you would have thought might view it as a routine experience.
James Morris has been around the Iowa program for about as long as he can remember. His stepfather, Greg Morris, has been the Hawkeyes' equipment manager since before James was born.
But when James finally was able to put on a black and gold jersey this week, it was somewhat surreal.
"I was just as wide-eyed as everybody else," Morris said. "It's one thing to see it, but it's not the same as being part of it."
Morris attended his first game at Kinnick Stadium - against Kent State - in 2004. It was about that time that he began playing tackle football in the Youth Sports Foundation league in Iowa City and within a few years he was the fulcrum of a football dynasty at Solon High School.
During Morris' four years at Solon, the Spartans went 52-2, won the last 41 games they played and claimed three state championships. Morris rushed for more than 1,900 yards and 30 touchdowns in each of his last three years and also excelled on defense.
"I always had a casual relationship with the Iowa coaches, so it took a while before I knew if I was really a prospect or if they were just being nice to me," Morris said.
When the Hawkeyes offered a scholarship after his sophomore season, he accepted immediately. He never even gave any other college program the time of day.
"To do anything else I would have just been playing games with people," he said. "I knew I was coming here."
He is one of the freshmen with the best chance of seeing playing time this fall. The Hawkeyes have five or six veteran linebackers, but coach Kirk Ferentz said he wants to get some seasoning for younger linebackers, if only on special teams, to get them ready for larger roles next season.
Sign up for the Hawkmania Newsletter
Get our comprehensive Hawkeyes coverage delivered to your inbox
He said the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Morris has the physical and mental maturity to handle immediate playing time.
"He just handles himself really well, pretty much in every situation he's been in, and I've known him a long, long time," Ferentz said. "I've known his family a long time so I've seen him through the years, too. He's an impressive young guy and he's got a good head on his shoulders and he works hard. It's realistic to think he could be in our mix this year."
Morris is slotted in at middle linebacker and his immediate goal is pretty simple: He wants to improve and learn every day.
"I think I can compete," he said. "I'm not going to be the biggest guy out here, but I'm going to try to be the smartest."