April 8, 2003

By Shannon McGonigle

Although recognized by his fellow students across campus by his red hair and ever-present cowboy hat, sophomore center Bob Morton was less known by fans on the football field last season. Playing behind former Irish All-American and National Football League prospect Jeff Faine in 2002, Morton did not take any game-day snaps. This season, he and rising junior Zach Giles are vying for the starting center position throughout spring practices. Both have performed well through spring workouts, but right now, Morton just enjoys the increased role he has been able to assume in practice.

“I think we’re all in position [for the starting job]. That’s why we’re in spring ball. That’s why we’re not playing Washington State tomorrow,” Morton said.

“We are all working hard, and however it turns out, I will keep working that much harder. The fact is I have to earn the trust of the players and the coaches to earn the job. As nice as it is to know that people like what I have been doing, it doesn’t ease anything.”

Morton has been taking snaps with starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday during practice. He jokes he was surprised last year when a coach would motion him onto the field. Now, however, he is so intently focused on the down and distance to go that he takes a while to realize he’s being pulled off the field.

Last year, Morton and Giles switched off taking snaps with Matt Krueger and Chris Olsen. This season, he notes, “We go out there, and every other day, I go to Carlyle. It’s a different feeling.”

Knowing that Faine’s spot is up for grabs is what Morton has been waiting for since coming to Notre Dame from McKinney High School in Texas.

“Last year, I came with the mentality that I knew Jeff was there. Now I’m a nice guy, so I decided to let Jeff have the job for a year,” he jokes.

“The competition is what it’s all about. If Notre Dame recruited 24 guys to play the game, and everyone knew they were going to play, that would be a really boring game. The fact is we have a 100-some guys and everyone’s competing for a job. There is no job that’s set, and that’s what this game’s all about.”

Head coach Tyrone Willingham agrees as he has seen some good things from the centers in the spring.

“The loss of Jeff Faine is big as he brought such attitude and presence to the team. It is nice to have someone like Jeff on the roster. This spring, I have seen Bob, Zach and Jeff Thompson all working tremendously hard, trying to grow as players and ultimately get better.”

Not speculating about next season’s starting center, Morton is able to focus on the tasks at hand during spring practice. He thinks competing with the other Irish players during practice is more fun than playing the other teams, so he’s enjoying the practices while they last. The spring Blue-Gold football game will surely give Irish fans a chance to see Morton’s play and will give Morton the chance to show what talents he can bring to the 2003 Notre Dame football team.