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A father's love: Roman Morris lives for his son, best friend and hero, Stephon

November 21, 2012
By Cory Giger (cgiger@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Stephon Morris was 2 1/2 months old when, as he recalled, his birth mother "pretty much tried to give me away."

Roman Morris, Stephon's father, remembers it like it was yesterday.

Roman, 21 at the time, went to visit his son at the birth mother's apartment in Maryland on that cold day in March of 1991, and he immediately noticed something wasn't right.

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"I was coming up and asking her, 'Where is he?' And she didn't tell me where he was," Roman recalled. "I went up to her apartment, and he had on a coat. I was like, 'What in the world?'

"I guess that's what she was trying to do, give him away. All the while I was thinking, 'I've got to get my son. I'm going to be able to do better for him.'

"It just so happened I got there in the nick of time."

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Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State’s Stephon Morris has lived with his dad, Roman, since he was 2 years old.

This is the time of year when we give thanks for the blessings in our lives, and Stephon Morris knows how blessed he is that his father showed up that day in 1991.

"Ever since then, since I was 2 months old, I've been living with my dad," Morris said.

Penn State players go through the gamut of media appearances throughout their careers. They get asked question after question about all aspects of football, and while most give thoughtful answers, they generally don't offer up too much personal information.

That's what made Morris' appearance at Tuesday's press conference so unique.

The young man, a senior cornerback, wore his heart on his sleeve. He wasn't asked about his personal life -- only about his emotions heading into the final game of his career Saturday against Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium -- and yet Morris captivated the media audience with some life revelations that would tug at anyone's heart.

It was powerful stuff. And it centered around his relationship with his father, who has attended every game of Morris' PSU career -- home and away -- and who sent him a loving text message Monday night to offer words of support.

"I told him, 'I'm so proud of you, son. There's not many young men who can dream the dream, and as they dream it, they live it. You're living the dream,'" Roman said.

"Be proud, because I'm proud of you."

Stephon had a message just as heartfelt for his father. For his best friend.

"I told him if I could just be half the man that he was, then my life would be complete," Stephon said.

Roman made a promise to himself that day in 1991, a promise he continues to try and keep every day.

"I promised myself I'm never going to let the kid fail," he said. "Every day I wake up, and I live for my son. Not through my son. I live for him."

"Everything we did, I always thought about it like us against the world."

Penn State's players must have felt that way for the better part of the past year, and especially since the NCAA levied severe sanctions on the program in July.

On that day, cell phones belonging to both Stephon and Roman rang nearly non-stop as other schools kept calling, all wondering if Stephon would like to transfer.

"I don't even think [NCAA President] Mark Emmert had finished giving out all the sanctions, my phone was blowing up just as much as his phone was blowing up from various Division I powerhouses," Roman said.

"I told Stephon, 'I want you to remember something. Penn State was the very first school to ever offer you. There's a lot to be said about that. Do what you want to do, and I'll support you. But you've got to be loyal. You've got to stand for something. And you know what, this too shall pass. But fight through with these guys. You're a band of brothers, you fight through it all."

The 2012 Nittany Lions have done just that. They've fought through incredible adversity, and Saturday their season will come to an end on what's expected to be a very emotional day. For everyone -- players, coaches and fans alike.

The Morris family will get to enjoy their own special moment Saturday, along with all the Penn State seniors and their families. The players and family members will be introduced on the field during a pregame ceremony, and coach Bill O'Brien requested all fans be in their seats early so they can honor this legendary senior class.

Many players will tear up as they run out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel for the final time in their careers. Stephon Morris admitted he will be one of them.

"It's going to be very emotional," he said. " I just walked out that tunnel just now, and I was thinking to myself, 'Wow, I have one more time walking out of the tunnel with my team, pointing to my family, in front of a great student section, in front of a great crowd, in front of a great alumni, in front of a great coaching staff.'"

Making the day even more memorable, Stephon will get to celebrate the moment on the field with his father and his stepmom, Cynthia Spriggs. Roman and Cynthia aren't married, but she has been part of Stephon's life since he was 2 years old.

"When I go out there Saturday and they say 'Roman Morris, father, and Cynthia Spriggs' ... just the fact that I get to run on the field toward them, too, it's going to mean a lot, so I'll probably get a little teary," Stephon said.

Roman will, too.

He sounds like the proudest father in the world when talking about Stephon, mentioning how his 5-foot-8, 186-pound son has defied the odds at every turn in a game played by giants.

When he sees his son run out of the tunnel, Roman will be thinking back to that day in 1991 when his life changed forever.

When his life became complete, because he had his son.

"He's my best friend," Roman said. "He's my hero."

 
 

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