Positive attitude helps Baldwin's Morrison
It was a play like any other.
Baldwin safety Jay Morrison saw the Woodland Hills' runner break through the line and into the second level. Like he's done so many times before, Morrison filled the hole and made the tackle.
“I'd seen the linebacker shift over so I came up with a good form tackle, but (the runner) dipped his helmet and the crown of his helmet hit me in the side of my neck and left me stiff,” Morrison recalled. “I was knocked out.”
Pete Wagner, then an assistant coach at Baldwin, recalls the moments after impact when Morrison laid unconscious on the field for nearly five minutes.
“It was a pretty scary moment for me. It was probably the scariest situation I've been around in my history of being around the game,” said Wagner, now the Fighting Highlanders' head coach. “You can hear (the impact) on the field. My heart stopped for a minute.
“Jay was lying motionless on the ground. There were a lot of question marks hours after that in terms of how he's going to be.”
Morrison suffered a concussion, cracked a vertebrae and tore a nerve in his neck during the collision in the Week 6 game last year and, after rehab proved not to be enough, had surgery in December to implant nerves from his leg into his neck in hopes of regenerating the nerves that were damaged.
Nearly a year later, the Baldwin senior still can't lift his right arm, and has only gained some feeling back through occupational therapy and continued rehab.
“He's finding the small challenges within his day and the lifestyle he has now without sports in his life,” Wagner said. “We're trying to support him in any way we can.”
Morrison, the younger brother of former Baldwin running back and Ohio freshman Dorian Brown, wanted to play at the next level as well, and remembers the moment when he was told just how serious his injury was.
“When the doctors first informed me back in December that there's a possibility I won't be able to move my arm forever, (that) I need surgery and I might not be able to play football again, it was real hard,” Morrison said. “Having a lot of success and being (football) was a stress-reliever, that was my place to go, my sanctuary. Now that I can't do that, I try to stay out of trouble.”
Morrison has found a way to still be involved with the team by going to practices and games when he doesn't have rehab.
Wagner says he has as much of an impact on the sideline as he did on the field.
“When he has (time), he likes being around his teammates. More importantly, the team loves when he's around,” Wagner said. “He's someone they can rally behind.
“The kids follow behind him. He's a voice that can be heard. It's good to get him there because it's like having another coach around and on the field, too.”
Even though it's tough not being able to suit up and play, Morrison feels he an obligation to support his friends and team.
“I just encourage them to keep doing what they're doing. You know, have fun, enjoy what they're doing because you never know when it'll be your last (play),” he said. “Other people don't get the opportunity to do the things we do.”
It's Morrison's positive attitude that has helped him most through the last 11 months, even when doctors continue to remind him that his life might not ever be the same.
“The doctors don't really give me the news that I would like to hear. They say it could be months, it could be years or it could be forever. In my mind I don't like to think like that,” Morrison said.
“I'm going to take it day-by-day and keep trying to do the right things to stay healthy. That's all I can do.”
Morrison hasn't allowed the uncertainty of the situation put his future plans on hold, but it has changed them a bit.
Coaching is now where Morrison focuses his football efforts as he continues to take advice from Wagner, as well as former Baldwin head coach Jim Wehner, who is now an assistant at McKeesport.
“I already go up the high school to get some coaching tips just to be around the game and learn,” Morrison said. “I would like to be a coach one day because I understand the game.”
Wagner added: “One day everybody is going to be done playing the game whether it's sooner or later. Jay is facing those challenges right now.
“There's other ways to approach the game. It's all about having a positive influence.”
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.