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Special era of Solon athletics included Gazette Athlete of the Year 3-peat
Matt Morrison, James Morris and Derrick Loveless starred for Spartans and won Athlete of the Year in 2009, 2010 and 2011
A special era highlighted by special talent.
Solon enjoyed a successful stretch experienced by few high schools, amassing eight boys’ state team titles with three more runner-up finishes in five sports from 2006 through 2011.
Matt Morrison, James Morris and Derrick Loveless were key components of that run, whether it was on the football, baseball or soccer fields, basketball court or track. Their impact extended well beyond games, victories and statistics.
“They were special athletes but they were great leaders and quality young men, who led by example,” former Spartans head football coach Kevin Miller said. “They held themselves to a high standard, as well as their teammates. They just valued the relationship piece. They enjoyed each other and never allowed success in the wide-ranging sports they experienced to define them.
“They were quality people that made the people around them better. They set a precedent and example for the younger generation that followed them.”
They helped pack the trophy case and Solon became the first and only school with three straight recipients of The Gazette’s Male Athlete of the Year award. Morrison shared the award with Cedar Rapids Washington’s Keenan Davis in 2009, while Morris and Loveless earned it outright in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
“It was a special time of my life,” said Morris, who is now a commercial lender for GreenState Credit Union in the Des Moines area. “The special moments with my teammates are treasured memories.”
Morrison led Solon to three straight state championship football games as starting quarterback, winning two Class 2A state titles as a junior and senior. The Spartans were 38-2 with Morrison under center, tallying 27 straight wins in 2008-09.
Morrison was part of a basketball program that reached state in 2006, breaking a 33-year drought. Solon returned two years later to place third and then captured the 2A state crown with a 28-0 record in 2009. Morrison scored more than 1,230 points in his final three seasons before playing at Northern Iowa.
“It was exciting to see it from the beginning to where it continued after it,” Morrison said. “It was really satisfying to do it with my teammates and cool to be a part of it.”
Morrison moved out west briefly after college. He returned to Eastern Iowa, coaching freshman basketball. He currently resides and works in Cedar Rapids.
“You didn’t understand the focus and commitment it took to get to those places until later,” Morrison said. “You realize that the foundation was already set.”
Morris was two-time Gatorade Football Player of the Year in Iowa. He was one of the most dominant all-around players, rushing for 2,248 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior. He threw for more than 500 yards and six scores as well. Morris finished with 6,467 career rushing yards, which ranked sixth all-time in Iowa, 113 TDs and 686 points.
He moved on to an all-Big Ten career at linebacker for Iowa. He was named a permanent team captain and was just the sixth Hawkeye to tally 400 career tackles. Morris had a brief stint in the NFL with the New England Patriots, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
Morris was also a three-time state qualifier in wrestling, placing fourth in his last two seasons. He was on a state placing relay team for Solon’s state title track and field team in 2010.
Morris is not currently involved in sports and enjoys time with family, including his 9-month-old daughter.
“The one thing I remember, why we did have some good athletes, it was more about the culture,” Morris said. “It wasn’t any one guy. We had a healthy buy-in from all the guys.”
Loveless closed out Solon’s four-year state football title run with the 3A crown in 2010 with more than 700 total offensive yards as a junior and more than 500 as a senior with 20 total TDs. He was also a leader for the 2010 and 2011 state title baseball teams and a part of the 2010 track champions. In the spring his senior season, he served as goalkeeper for the Spartans soccer team that was state runner-up to Iowa City Regina.
“I always just wanted to be active,” the 2011 27th-round Major League Baseball draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays told The Gazette. “The more sports I did the happier I was … I knew it was ultimately going to be baseball or football for me. My mom wanted me to play baseball, my dad wanted me to play football. I took my time with it, saw the progress I was making in both.”
Loveless was a first-team elite all-state performer, hitting .528 as a junior and .554 as a senior. He had 67 hits, including 14 doubles, six triples and 11 home runs, 64 runs and 64 RBIs. Loveless had 188 hits, 150 RBIs, 173 runs and 18 home runs in his final three seasons, earning all-Wamac Conference and first-team all-district honors twice.
Loveless played eight seasons in the minor leagues, reaching Double-A ball. He played one season with the Lansing Lugnuts in the Midwest League. He lives in the Raleigh, N.C., area with his family. Loveless also gave back to the sport, working with young players as a batting instructor.
“They had a competitive spirit about them,” Miller said. “It permeated out to the rest of our sports. It played a big factor.
“They set the bar in excelling, not in just one sport, but a variety of sports. They competed at an elite level and experienced a great deal of success because of it. It speaks volumes about those three and the group of people we had during that time frame.”