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April 2, 2010James Morrison will tell you the Devil has been reawakened inside of him and it's here to give his opponents hell.
Morrison, a 5-foot-11, 208 pound sophomore running back is at the peak of his game -- evidently the best he's felt since he walked onto the team as a non-scholarship afterthought prior to Camp Tontazona in 2008.
It was almost immediately following his coming out party at Arizona State's final foray into the tall pines near Payson -- where he had touchdowns in each of the team's two major scrimmages -- that things took a dramatic turn for the worse.
After being horse collared by a former defensive teammate just two weeks prior to the start of the season, Morrison suffered a broken ankle. It was a devastating injury that left him sitting out for the duration of the 2008 season.
Upon his return the following spring, Morrison struggled and was unable to fully bounce back from the injury.
"Mentally I was struggling with it because I knew I could do it physically but my mind just because of the injury and all the pain I had to go through, I didn't trust myself," Morrison said.
The lack of trust he was betrayed by no longer exists, Morrison said. He worked diligently throughout the off-season preparing for what has been a rather impressive launch to spring ball 2010, with an improved diet a major contributor.
"I still feel strong in the weight room," Morrison said. "During the winter on squat days I got up to 475 (pounds) one day and I still have all my power, upper body, lower body, everything, I just decided to lose a few pounds."
"He did it on his own," Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's down to 210. I think he was 220 or something last year. He feels a lot better."
Many have been heard saying, "the bruiser is back," but Morrison will be the first to tell you he's ready to perform beyond the bruising.
"When I read a lot of stuff it was, 'big bruiser back,' but I wanted to be more versatile so I decided to shed some pounds and see where I go and I feel good right now," Morrison said.
After two years on the shelf, there is resurgence in Morrison's game and a sense of urgency.
"I think he's 100 percent healthy and not just physically but mentally," running backs coach Bryce Erickson said. "The hardest thing players have to deal with when they face an injury is the psychological part of it because they are a little bit apprehensive of coming back from injury. I think he's got his confidence back and that's helped him tremendously. He believes in his skills and he knows what he's capable of doing and he's shown that far."
The James Morrison many witnessed light up Camp Tontazona nearly two years has returned.
"He reminds me of what he was when he first got in here. It's good to see that. He's got some quickness," Dennis Erickson said.
While you may have seen him on the field practicing with Arizona State last season, that wasn't the real Morrison. He is awakening the devil that has been dining inside and ready to deliver.
"You can't take anything for granted," Morrison said. " Whenever you're on this Sun Devil field you have to ball out."
Dennis Erickson said it's clear from what he's observed early on this spring that his players are thoroughly enjoying the practice changes that have been implemented along with the new, up-tempo offensive scheme.
"They're having much more fun than we've ever had," Erickson said. "They're having fun like they're on the schoolyard again and that's how it should be. I think a lot of it is the no huddle stuff. The offense at least is attacking back (at the defense) and that makes it a lot more fun."
Morrison wasn't the only running back who received some positive comments form coaches Thursday. Freshman Marcus Washington, a grayshirt addition this spring who signed with the program out of Phoenix Desert Vista as a member of the 2009 class, earned unprompted praise from Dennis Erickson for how he's looked through the first three days.
Washington, 5-foot-11, 211 pounds, is finally healthy after battling severe shin splints in his two years of high school, eventually leading to a titanium rod being inserted in his lower leg.
With just three scholarship running backs -- excluding Jamal Miles who is more of a hybrid running back/receiver -- on the roster this spring, Washington may be an afterthought to Cameron Marshall and Morrison to many who are following spring reports, but he'll get a lot of reps all the same; with that comes a chance to make an impression.
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