I don't mind admitting it: I'll miss watching "the Stanley stiff-arm."

That's my nickname for what former Nebraska receiver Stanley Morgan often did to defenders after he caught a pass. He was excellent when running with the ball after a catch, in part because he fought off would-be tacklers so effectively. His stiff arm will come in handy in the NFL. Yes, Morgan will play in the NFL.

There's a symbolic element to that stiff-arm move in that Morgan stiff-armed the sort of trouble a young man can easily find in New Orleans, his hometown.

In an interview last week, Morgan recalled a locker-room scene in mid-November of 2017 in State College, Pennsylvania. Nebraska, 4-6 at the time, trailed Penn State 42-10 at halftime. Yeah, a gloomy night for the visiting team. Cold, rainy and miserable. But then-Husker receivers coach Keith Williams had an uplifting message for Morgan that touched on the receiver's upbringing in the Big Easy. The message sticks with Morgan to this day.

"He looked at me and said, 'This situation right here is better than what you come from,'" Morgan said. "He said, 'You've got to put it all out on the table.' That stuck with me that day. It will stick with me for the rest of my life. I mean, every time I touch that field it's balls to the wall. I give it my all every time I touch that field because you never know, there may come a time when you never touch it again." 

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Morgan has been training in Thousand Oaks, California, in advance of the NFL Scouting Combine. Yes, he's received an all-important combine invite. Wide receivers will go through drills March 2. There will be pressure. After all, we're talking about young men trying to establish lucrative livelihoods. Morgan likely will stiff-arm that sort of pressure because that's not what fuels him.

"I just love the grind," he said. "I really love the process of getting coached-up and improving. I really enjoy the process of learning things about the game and learning ways to break barriers. That's the stuff I love about football. I don't do it for anything else. It's not about the glory and touchdowns. That all comes with it if you work hard. But I love the tough practices and tough workouts when you feel like you're not going to get through it, and then you get through it. That's an amazing feeling.

"I've always been that way," he added. "I've always felt if you have that savage mentality all the time, you can't overlook me."

That's the way it's been since his days at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. You couldn't overlook him then. You can't overlook him now. He keeps coming, regardless of circumstance. That's what he did during that cold night in State College, where he had two catches for 30 yards at halftime, then five for 155 and a touchdown in the second half of a 56-44 loss.

He just kept throwing out that stiff-arm, just as he stiff-armed the rough and seedy elements of New Orleans while growing up. He doesn't get into specifics. He did, however, mention how much he appreciates his mom keeping him in sports. That helped steer him from trouble, he said. His grandparents also were important in his life, he said.

"It's tough in New Orleans," Morgan said. "Sometimes you have to watch over your shoulder. It's a fun place, but it's very dangerous at the same time."

As for the genesis of his stiff-arm prowess, Morgan said, "When I was young, for some reason I always wanted to be a tight end, but I wasn't big enough. So I was always sticking my hand out there. I'm a strong guy. I might be slim, but I'm very strong. I have strong hands so I figured I'd put them to work.

"I just play with a savage mentality."

He put his hands to work in a big way at Nebraska, using them to become the school's all-time leader in receptions (189) and receiving yards (2,747). In 2018, he became the first 1,000-yard receiver in program history. He was one of only 28 FBS players -- and just three in the Big Ten -- to have 1,000 receiving yards during the regular season.

He stiff-armed the negativity that goes with playing for three Husker teams (in four years) that ended up with losing records.

He stiff-armed the drawbacks of playing in two different offenses for two different coaching staffs while catching passes from several quarterbacks.

In the midst of all that inconsistency in his football life, he kept producing at a high level. He grew as a man at Nebraska, becoming a team captain in 2018. Every day this past season, he said, he woke up "knowing I had guys looking up to me even when times were tough. 

"It made me get out of my comfort zone because I'm more of a just-do-it type -- not talking, just playing. But I had to speak up and coach young guys. I enjoyed it. That was the best feeling ever, to help lead my team. I'll take that with me for the rest of my life."

Morgan played in a lot of games at Nebraska that meant little in the grand scheme of college football. But he played every game as though it meant everything because to him it did mean everything. You saw it in his fierce competitiveness. You saw it in that terrific stiff-arm.

Yes, sir, someday soon there will be an NFL fan base that loves "the Stanley stiff-arm."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Load comments