IOWA CITY — Don’t ask Marcus Morgan to pick a favorite sport.
The calendar will likely dictate that choice. Football takes over during the fall, giving way to basketball in winter and then track in spring. Baseball rules the summer for the Iowa City West junior.
“I’ve grown up playing all three sports since I was really small,” said Morgan about baseball, football and basketball. “I’ve made really good memories and bonds through each of those sports. I wouldn’t say there is a front runner, right now, as far as my favorite. I really enjoy playing all three.”
Morgan has thrived in each for the Trojans, earning all-state honors a year ago. He will attempt to build on that success and power West after a trip to the 2019 state semifinals.
“He’s just mentally strong to be able to do that, go place-to-place and excel in all the sports,” Stumpff said. “We saw it in baseball last year in the tournaments. That was when he was absolute best.
“Every game was close and he just was a warrior out there. He has great composure and toughness. He takes that to all the sports.”
Statistics indicate Morgan’s dominance last season. He posted a 10-0 record with a 0.71 earned-run average, fanning 105 batters in just 59.3 innings pitched. A nice improvement from the 6-1 mark and 1.75 ERA as a freshman.
Morgan attributes the growth to dedication in the weight room and another year of maturation.
“I got a lot stronger going into last season,” said Morgan, a quarterback who has received multiple NCAA Division I scholarship offers for football and baseball. “I think that was a big part of it. Also, having that year of experience the season before that as a freshman, having that varsity experience definitely helped. Helped me figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
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This season has already been strange. Normally, teams would be three weeks into competition after a full spring of training. Morgan prepared himself with lifting and throwing. Morgan used a friend’s backyard mound for weekly bullpen sessions and added long-toss workouts a few times a week. Tossing the football around helped keep his arm in shape as well.
“Usually you can get in a nice little rhythm going into the postseason, get things rolling and playing how you want to play,” Morgan said. “With the short season, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. You have to find that rhythm early and hopefully take it into the postseason.”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander possesses a fastball that hit 86 to 88 miles per hour. He has good command of breaking pitches, stifling batters. The key is to get ahead in the count and use his full arsenal.
“That is where my off-speed — slider and sweeping curve — comes into play,” Morgan said. “That’s my favorite pitch to throw. Just having really good command on that and locating it where I need it to be.”
Stumpff highlighted a couple defining moments last season. Morgan showed his poise in a regular-season battle against Iowa City High, overcoming early adversity and keeping West in a game it won in eight innings. He demonstrated grit when he was 100-percent physically, pitching four innings against Dubuque Senior for a depleted staff after a doubleheader sweep against highly-ranked Western Dubuque.
Morgan shined in the postseason, helping escort the Trojans to the Class 4A state semifinals. He pitched in each of the first three tournament games. Morgan posted a 15-strikeout, complete-game two-hitter against Muscatine and struck out 13 in a one-hitter against Prairie in consecutive 2-1 substate victories. In durable iron-man fashion, he rebounded for 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a state quarterfinal victory over Pleasant Valley.
“He just kept getting better,” Stumpff said. “I think the tournament games is where he put it all together. He was dynamite in that part.
“During the regular season we saw mental growth. For the tournament, he put the whole package together. We hope he keeps building off that.”
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Stumpff hesitates to talk potential, but admits Morgan has bloomed sooner than some other West pitchers, like Ole Miss reliever Austin Miller and former Iowa thrower Nick Gallagher.
“We’ve had some really outstanding pitchers,” Stumpff said. “Marcus has all that stuff and he’s got high-echelon stuff.
“He has all of the other things my guys didn’t have before.”
West graduated eight seniors from that roster. Stumpff said Morgan is a natural leader, setting a good example and treating his teammates well. Morgan said he is willing to play a bigger role at the plate and in the field this season, even though he contributed plenty a year ago with a .404 batting average, three home runs and 32 RBIs.
“I grew up playing in the field, everywhere,” Morgan said. “I’ve been focusing more on infield the past two weeks in practice. I’m comfortable playing that completely, so I’m excited about that.”
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