Courtney Morgan achieved his goals of playing college football and obtaining a degree. Now he is helping others do the same. Photo by Jason Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Courtney Morgan, UCLA football team’s Director of Player Development and High School Relations, has perspective that every high school student athlete needs to hear if they want to enhance their chances of not only making it to play college sports, but also to make it in life.
According to Morgan, who starred on Westchester High School’s offensive line and played college football at Michigan, it is not always about natural abilities. There is a lot more to it than that. It starts with something as simple as having a dream, then a goal, and then working hard to achieve that goal.
“I had a dream since I was a kid, which was to play football at Michigan,” Morgan said. “I remember when I was in the sixth grade, when the Fab 5 were playing, telling my dad that I was going to play for Michigan. To me, I’ve always been one of those people who, when I put my mind to something, it’s over. I’m going to do it, no matter what it is. It’s helped me throughout my whole life. I get in a zone, and I just block everything else out and I do everything that I need to do to achieve my goals. That’s what I try to teach these kids.”
Morgan’s early childhood was spent near Fairfax Ave. and Pico Blvd., and his teenage years were spent near Overhill and Slauson Ave. Even though he was unable to play organized tackle football growing up because of the weight restrictions, he was always involved in sports.
“All my friends were athletes, playing AAU basketball and youth football,” Morgan said. “So any time we got together it was really competitive. Everything was about competition growing up. You didn’t want to be the last one picked, or on the losing team.”
Morgan was highly recruited out of Westchester. While he was on the varsity team, they only lost four games in three years and they were contenders for the City Section championship. He was highly recruited by several big time programs, and he felt that the people that he surrounded himself with played a major role in that.
“I surrounded myself with people who had like minds,” Morgan said. “And I think that’s big. You hear that your network is your net worth. I had a best friend whose goal was to go to Cal Berkeley, and he went to Howard. I had another friend who wanted to go to Cal Berkeley, he ended up going to Cal Berkeley. I had a friend who wanted to go to Morehouse, and his sister was going to Spellman. He went to Morehouse. So I surrounded myself with people who were cool, but also handled their business.”
Morgan chose Michigan because that was his dream school, and because he felt that it would make him more independent. He felt that being on his own, he would not have leaned on his mother for support as much, and he also wanted to get away from some of the negative influences in South Los Angeles.
Morgan had the right perspective at Michigan. He had a goal of playing in the NFL, but for him, graduating was of great importance, which is not on the radar of a lot of college athletes, many of which who would rather be paid than obtain a degree.
“I feel like you have to graduate,” Morgan said. “They’re going to get everything out of you at a college or university, and there is nothing wrong with that. I feel like they have a product that they have to put on the field. Now your return on investment is a degree. Most schools give you every resource to get your degree. It’s just that a lot of athletes don’t take advantage of it. A lot of times, when you’re 18 or 19 years old, you don’t really see the benefit of it. Everything comes from home. It’s what your parents are putting in your head when you are nine and 10 years old. If they’re not stressing education, but they’re stressing football, then you’re going to grow up and just think football. You’re going to think that’s it.”
Many college athletes, especially African American football and basketball players, ignore the opportunity that they have, or they simply do not value it.
“A lot of schools put millions of dollars into the athletes,” Morgan said. “A lot of people want to blame the schools for using the athletes, but you’d be amazed on how many athletes don’t even go and get their books, and they’re free!”
Morgan also sees the pressure put on many young athletes. It is not pressure to obtain a college degree, but to make it to the professional ranks in their sports, which for most athletes, even gifted ones, is extremely hard to obtain.
“Unfortunately, a lot of African Americans, we put a lot pressure on our kids to go pro,” Morgan said. “A lot of times they don’t understand that when you’re telling little Johnny, in the 6th grade, that you’re going to go to the NFL or the NBA, and that’s it. I feel that it is added pressure, and it can lead to severe pressure for little Johnny if it doesn’t happen for him. Chances are you’re not going to go pro. I don’t care how good you are. I’ve seen some of the most amazing people in high school football, some of the most amazing college football players, not make it in the NFL, or in college football. Because there are a lot of variables in playing in the NFL that do not have much to do with your athletic abilities.”
Because Morgan valued his education, he was able to obtain a good job in sales after his college career, where he was a two-year starter, and he played in some big time games against Ohio State and Notre Dame. He was close to making it to the NFL, but he did not want to chase a dream forever, so he used his education to land himself a good paying job.
After some time he felt the urge to get back into football, and after seeing how much college coaches made, he was ready to jump back in. He started off by coaching the offensive linemen at B2G Sports, and then he landed a job working with the offensive linemen at UCLA.
Because of his ties to high school football, and his abilities to evaluate talent, he was promoted to the position of Director of Player Development, where he handles recruitment. Without a college degree, he would have never had the opportunity to be hired at UCLA.
Morgan’s advice to high school student athletes and parents is to have the athletes attend as many offseason camps as possible, including the camps put on by colleges, utilize youtube.com, where many college coaches can watch video of the athlete, and stay in close contact with the high school counselor. The counselor can give the student an update on where he or she is academically in terms of qualifying for college.
Morgan grew up in our community, and now he is servicing our community by helping young student athletes achieve their dreams, and setting them on the right path. He is able to do that because he valued his education, and used his athletic abilities as a means to obtain it.