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LITTLE BIG MAN Undersized Corner Plays with 'Chip on My Shoulder'

Nov. 20, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Ever since he put on those oversized shoulder pads for the first time as a 4-year-old pee-wee football player in Warner Robins, Ga., Baylor cornerback K.J. Morton has always been one of the smallest players on the field.

But the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Morton was standing tall at the end of Saturday's 63-34 win over Texas Tech, finishing with a team-high nine tackles, a "miraculous" interception, his first career sack, four pass breakups, three tackles for losses and a forced fumble.

"God didn't bless me to be 6-4 or 6-3," Morton said. "The way I look at it is God blessed me with a lot of ability. God blessed me with a lot of strength. So, I just use everything that He gave me and just go out there and play in His light and shine for him. I know He wouldn't have put me where I am and making the plays and having the opportunities that I have if I wasn't ready."

It's that David vs. Goliath mentality: Come on, giant, what you got?

"Playing cornerback and playing receiver, it's all about techniques," said Morton, who's had six career interceptions. "No matter if (the receiver) is 6-7, if you use your technique, you can cover anybody. that's something I harp on. Because I'm not 6-4, I just go out there and critique my technique and get it down to a tee."

In the three seasons since transferring from College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., Morton has obviously perfected his technique. Morton ranks among the team leaders with 32 solo tackles, 41 total stops, six tackles for losses and nine breakups.

"I think it goes back to the maturity process," Baylor head coach Art Briles said. "He's been here three years, he's been through a lot, done a lot and contributed a lot. And he's playing with a tremendous amount of confidence, like the rest of our football team."

Even as a 4-year-old tyke playing in a 5-6-year-old league, Morton picked up on something that helps him to this day at cornerback. Like no other position on the field, you have to have a short-term memory. Forget the last play, the next one's about to happen.

"If I threw a pick or fumbled or something, I would always pout," said Morton, who played quarterback and defensive back for a pee-wee team that his dad coached. "And my dad used to always say, 'Pouting is not going to make it better. Just learn from it.' If you sit there and pout about it the whole time, you're going to have a terrible game."

That next-play mentality serves him well at cornerback, where you're "on an island by yourself." You're always one big play away from the opposing team's band playing and the referee holding his hands up to signal another touchdown.

"I go out there with a chip on my shoulder that he's not going to make a play," Morton said. "And if he does make a catch, I'm like, 'OK, cool, I'm going to come back and make a pick or two picks.' I'm just a very big competitor. When I step out there, I just line up and take it upon myself that he's not going to catch anything."

Assistant coach Carlton Buckels, an undersized corner himself at LSU, credits the off-season work with strength coach Kaz Kazadi for part of Morton's success.

"Those guys do a great job of preparing their bodies and getting them ready for what they're going to have to encounter during the season," Buckels said. "He's a physical guy, he wants to be physical, and he wants to make plays. If he has to blitz and make a tackle, he'll do that. And if he just has to tackle in space, he'll do that as well. But he wants to be physical doing it."

While Morton got his first career sack on a corner blitz, he also had that "miraculous" interception on a first-quarter blitz against Tech.

Coming off the edge, Morton saw Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield "cock his arm back to pass the ball," leaped up high to bat it down and instead came down with it for his first pick of the year.

"I saw the ball leave his hands and kind of just took off at the highest point, and I was like, 'OK, I've got it,''' he said.

Buckels sheepishly admits that he doesn't do any practice drills to simulate that kind of interception.

"It's instincts, and I think it's film study as well," Buckels said. "He knew exactly what they were going do, if he blitzed and they tried to throw high, things like that. He was just reacting. And I think the instincts took over. The guy threw the ball, and he was right there to make a play on it."

You can also attribute Morton's improved play this season to being healthy. By the end of his sophomore season, he was so slowed by a groin pull that he was abused in the Bears' 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

"It just makes you never forget what you did to get where you are, and just to always stay humble," said Morton, who also missed six games last year with the same injury, "because at any time, anything can happen. Now that I've been rehabbing and eating right, stretch and just hydrating, my groin and my body feels good. This is really the first time that I've been healthy like I am right now."

A high school quarterback and cornerback who led Northside to a pair of state championships and a three-year record of 40-2, Morton originally signed with Georgia State. But when he didn't make it academically, he played a year at College of the Sequoias before transferring to Baylor.

That's when he was introduced to first-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.

"Man, when I first got here, I had to get tough skin, because he was on me hard," Morton said. "He's going to get on your butt and push you as hard as he can. And then after the game, once you come into the locker room, he's like, 'Oh, how's the family?' . . . A wise man once told me that if someone's on you, that means they care about you or they see in potential in you, and they just want to get the best out of you."

That's what Bennett and the rest of the coaches are getting out of Morton, who's one goal is to "shut down half of the field."

Once the whipping boys of the Big 12, the Baylor defense now ranks among the country's best, giving up just 322.6 yards and 17.4 points per game.

The third-ranked Bears (9-0, 6-0) will get arguably their stiffest test of the season when they play No. 9/11 Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.

"We've played some games on the road this year, and we know this is going to be a bigger one," Morton said. "At the same time, we just feel like we're going to go there and just keep the focus and play within ourselves; and just know that it's us against the world. Just go in there with a chip on our shoulders and just come out on top."