Annette Morris used to lay in bed at night crying uncontrollably. It was the only time and place where she could reveal her true emotions, her true sorrow.
Her youngest child was suffering more than any mother could bear. The little boy was experiencing grand mal seizures, which are characterized by the loss of consciousness, falling down, loss of bladder control and rhythmic convulsions.
Compounding the problem was an asthmatic condition that afflicted her tormented son.
Her days and nights were spent in hospital rooms, sometimes for weeks at a time, to hold onto the youngest of her five children, Warteze, who eventually became known simply as “Tez.”
She never could have predicted that her ailing little boy would eventually turn into a top-flight free safety on the Pitt football team in 2002. She never could have predicted that he’d be a legitimate All-Big East candidate in this, his sophomore season, on a Panthers team that could compete for a national championship.
But that’s exactly where the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Morris is today. He’s followed a road that very few have traveled. And, he’s living proof that you can beat the odds.
“The doctor told me to never stop him, to let this boy be whatever he wants to be,” said Annette Morris, who resides in Hamilton, Ohio. “So I didn’t stop him from playing football. The first year, when he was five, he played around in the mud. The next year, that boy went out and just started hitting people.”
He’s never stopped. Morris received the “Hardest Hitter” award every year on his pee-wee football teams since the age of six. He developed a knack for crucifying ball-carriers and receivers, which caught the eye of Pitt coach Paul Rhoads when Morris starred at outside linebacker at Hamilton High.
Rhoads described a hit Morris made his junior season.
“It was like I was watching something out of a stunt movie,” Rhoads said. “Tez hit this kid so hard that it looked like somebody had a rope attached to the kid he hit, and pulled it quickly. The kid’s feet went up in the air and his helmet went back on the ground. I knew right there that Tez could uncoil.”
Mom knew it too, but she wasn’t sure she liked it.
“I’d say to him, ‘Tez, do you have to hit those children that hardâ¢ Can’t you be a little nicer?,'” Annette Morris said. “He would always tell me that’s part of the job.”
On the outside, Annette Morris smiled when Tez gave his answers. On the inside, she melted. She was scared to death about her son playing a sport that required full-contact, particularly when he savored it as much as he did.
“But I didn’t want to show him that it was hurting me, because then it would hurt him,” she said. “I had to be strong for my baby, even if it killed me.”
Tez hasn’t had seizures since junior high. He took medication as a youngster to control the bouts, then eventually grew out of them. He received a clean bill of health when he arrived at Pitt in 2001 and has had no lingering effects.
“I always felt like maybe I was a bad person because I was letting my son play football,” said Annette, whose oldest son, Wallace, played at Wilmington (Ohio) College. “His dad didn’t want him to play. But I didn’t want him to pass up on his dream. I cried a lot, but I let him be who he wanted to be.”
Known for his street-fighting skills in Hamilton, Tez Morris is one of the toughest members of the Pitt football team. He is in the mold of former Pitt and current Houston Texans free safety Ramon Walker, who made a career out of highlight-reel hits.
“When I would watch Ramon, I’d think to myself, ‘So that’s the way you’re supposed to do it,” said Morris, who was second on Pitt last season with 119 tackles and made the Sporting News Big East All-Freshman Team. “He gave me a good understanding of what it takes to be great.”
“He’s ahead of Ramon in some capacities right now,” Rhoads said. “So, that’s saying a lot.”
Morris earned his job in spring drills in 2002 when projected starter Corey Humprhies tore his ACL. Humphries, a senior who returned in Week 8 last season and has four career starts, has fallen behind Morris on the depth chart.
“I’m just glad to be in the position I’m in, because I know it can be gone tomorrow,” Morris said. “You never know what’s going to happen, so you have to savor every minute.”
Annette Morris is doing just that.
“My son is quiet, he doesn’t say much,” Annette Morris said. “That’s OK, because I’ll do all the talking for him. He isn’t lucky, he’s been blessed. I still remember sitting with that little child in the hospital. And today, to see what he’s doing on the football field, is a miracle.”
|Pitt safety beating the odds|
Pitt sophomore Tez Morris survived serious health issues to become a key component in the Panthers’ nationally recognized defense.