Over the last couple of months, there’d been a lively Internet debate amongst Penn State football recruitniks as to whether or not 5-foot-9 Stephon Morris could cover the tall, physical wide receivers in the Big Ten.
Nittany Lion wideout recruit Brandon Felder is 6-3 and has gone head-to-head with Morris when his Oxon Hill, Md., squad has played Eleanor Roosevelt. Felder laughed when asked who got the better of those matchups.
‘‘Do I have to answer that?’’ Felder said. ‘‘He got the best of me last year.’’
Probably seeing that helped answer any questions the Lion coaches had concerning Morris’ ability to play at Penn State. They were the first school to offer the suburban Washington, D.C. cornerback and, on Saturday, got a commitment from him when he made a visit to University Park.
‘‘To tell the truth, before I got there for the visit, I hadn’t made my mind up. But the number [of available scholarships] was ticking down, so I knew I had to make it up soon,’’ said Morris, who also had offers from Louisville, Illinois and Rutgers. ‘‘Then I met with Coach Paterno, I met with Coach Johnson, and I took a tour of the beautiful campus.
‘‘After that, I really thought this was the school I wanted to be at.’’
As a junior, Morris broke up 18 passes and intercepted three despite missing a game. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one, and took four returns back for touchdowns.
Those numbers are all the more impressive when one realizes Eleanor Roosevelt plays in conference in which more of the teams employ run-first offenses.
Morris is considered to be one of the best pure cover corners in this part of the country.
‘‘He’s done well with all the footwork and hipwork we’ve done to enhance his chances to play at the next level,’’ former Eleanor Roosevelt coach Rick Houchens, now entering his first season at Archbishop Carroll, said. ‘‘He’s a little small now, but, once he gets bigger, he’ll be all right. He has an excellent work ethic, too good to doubt he’ll do whatever they tell him he needs to do.’’
Houchens said Morris is also strong for his size. Morris, who is now 175 pounds, benched 185 pounds 17 times at a combine last year when he was 10 pounds lighter. He also runs the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds and has a vertical leap of 38 inches.
‘‘When you get to college, you have to play bigger than your size,’’ Houchens said. ‘‘People don’t remember. You have to fight for the ball when it’s in the air. These guys have the strength for fight off, we say ‘body him’ for position.’’
Morris thinks his ability to understand that has helped him. The son of football coach and former Pennsylvania Piranha semi-pro player Roman Morris, the younger Morris got a very early start in the game.
When he’s not playing football, lifting weights or running track, he likes to watch video of pro defensive backs — his favorite is Dallas Cowboy Terrance Newman — to pick up little nuances.
‘‘I think the mental aspect is the biggest thing,’’ Morris said. ‘‘Every corners going to get beat at some point. The question is: Are you going to come back from that?’’
While Morris is best known for his ability to press cover and play man-to-man, he does have experience in a zone coverage that Penn State likes to utilize.
Morris thinks his winding up at Penn State might have been foreordained. Ten years ago, he was on a car ride with his mother, and she was telling him that there was more school to attend after high school. Familiar with Penn State because he would see the Nittany Lions on television and his dad was playing football in Harrisburg, Morris told her that was where he would go to college.
‘‘That really stood out [during the visit],’’ Morris said. ‘‘For them to be the first one to offer me a scholarship, it was destiny.’’