By Mark Heller, Tribune Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.
Most competitive athlete’s goals are big in either stature or wishful thinking: state championships, scholarships, breaking records, etc.
Taren Morrison is no exception, but sometimes it’s about the promise of food.
Big goals were established before the Desert Ridge junior embarked one of the best seasons by an Arizona big-school running back in recent history, but some mini, performance-based wagers with his father helped fuel — metabolically and figuratively — his cause.
Even before the Jaguars’ passing game practically vanished because of brother Tarek’s slow return from a serious knee injury in the 2012 playoffs, followed by another serious knee injury late in the 2013 regular season, Taren knew his sights: 2,000 yards in the regular season (actual: 1,828), 2,500 yards including playoffs (actual: 2,587), 250-300 yards rushing per game, a few touchdowns and a lot of wins.
Reach those goals on a (near-) weekly basis, and a free movie — maybe out to dinner with dad — was the dangling carrot.
“That’s when we’d go harder,” Taren said with a laugh.
While Tarek — who again is rehabbing from a torn anterior cruciate ligament — struggled to generate an effective passing game, and the Jaguars lost leading receiver E.J. McClanahan to a season-ending injury, it became obvious Desert Ridge was going to win one-dimensionally. Add in the Jaguars’ offensive line was tough, but mostly undersized (by Div. I standards), and it’s fair to wonder how Morrison averaged a surreal 12.4 yards per carry in his 209 attempts against Division I competition, third-best in the state behind Tucson Sabino’s Zach Joseph (14.3 average in 97 carries) and Tuba City’s Brenton Goldtooth (12.71 average for 148 attempts), and it includes Red Mountain holding him to five yards per carry.
The two worst weeks came during losses in Week 1 against Serra (Calif.), and against the state’s best defense in Mountain Pointe. Both times he still reached 100 yards.
“They had all those guys in the box and just closed everything,” Taren said of the Mountain Pointe loss in the semifinals. “They stacked their best (linebacker) to side where I was going to run, so they knew what we were going to do.”
He burned an otherwise-solid Mesa defense for 376 yards on 11 carries (34 yards per carry) and had his season’s self-admitted personal highlight — a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He accounted for 587 yards and five touchdowns in two games against Desert Mountain, and 573 yards and nine touchdowns in two meetings with Brophy.
“There was basically nine guys in the box and they knew we weren’t going to pass, that wasn’t us,” he said of opposing defenses playing 1-on-11 against him most of the season. “They just stacked the box and it felt like there’s nowhere to run, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.”
What he did was hit the hole, wait for a block on the second level or make a juke, and turn his path into a vapor trail with speed.
It’s a trail that may eventually lead him out of the state. Other than visits to California to see his sister, and the Week 1 game at Serra, Taren sees his next venture involving exposure to a different part of the country.
The obvious hope being the NFL is involved someday, and another beyond pro football involves opening a hair/nail salon, similar to one his cousin owns.
To get there, however, the paper trail of college letters and scholarship offers has been a different form of vapor. Though not overly worried on the basis he’ll play next year, an appeal to the Arizona Interscholastic Association might be forthcoming to grant both Morrisons another year of eligibility after they didn’t attend school two years ago for what the school cites as family hardship reasons.
He said a few schools have reached out, but no offers have come so far.
If this sounds hard to believe to anyone who’s watched him play the past four months, it would be around the 210th time Taren has left others in the dust, scratching their heads.
“I’m just waiting to see what comes,” he said. “It’s kind of become, ‘How much further do I have to push myself?’”