The OdysseyTwo Coaches and a Cross-Country Trip Later, the Bears' Michael Morrison Has Finally Found a Place to Thrive
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Category: Sports > Spring > Track and Field
Cal junior Michael Morrison will graduate as the best decathlete this campus has ever seen, or so his coaches say.
Yet the Virginia native would be the first to tell you that he initially never considered the school whose record books he is now rewriting.
"If you had ever told me that I was going to be at Cal-Berkeley when I was 17, I would have said you were crazy," says Morrison.
As early as his freshman year at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., Morrison seemed destined to shine as a pole vaulter.
Coach Rich Fulford, after all, had established a long tradition in the event. Prior to Morrison, Fulford's most notable athlete was Lawrence Johnson, who eventually medaled at the 2000 Olympic Games. Morrison was his next star.
"From his freshman year, he showed promise and potential," says Fulford. "All the tools he had showed he'd be phenomenal, and he was."
Morrison exceeded even Fulford's expectations. Even before his senior year, Morrison claimed the 2005 pole vault championship for the American junior national team.
And Morrison was just getting started. His senior season included clearing a 17-foot bar on a consistent basis. He even broke Johnson's seemingly untouchable school record by half an inch, clearing a bar of 17 feet, 6.5 inches.
While dominating the pole vault, Morrison showed promise as a multi-event athlete and was twice named Virginia's Gatorade Athlete of the Year.
"That's when I realized I was on the path to do bigger and better things down the road," he says.
Many considered it a foregone conclusion that Morrison would follow in the footsteps of both Fulford and Johnson by continuing his career at Tennessee.
"I could have told him to choose Tennessee, and I wanted to, I really did," Fulford says. "I knew what he'd be getting at Tennessee, but I got to pick my college and I wanted to give the same to him."
Although Cal certainly coveted Morrison, it lacked the scholarship money to compete with the SEC programs seeking his services. Tennessee's biggest competition came from Florida.
For Morrison, signing with the Volunteers would have cemented his place in the decorated history of pole vaulters from his high school. By selecting Florida, he could create his own lasting legacy.
"I had to fight with every urge not to attend the University of Tennessee, but I ended up choosing the University of Florida instead," Morrison says. "The coach who was there at the time, Dan Pfaff, he's coached a number of Olympians. So I went to the school to be coached by him."
A week before he left for college, the reason he picked the school left Gainesville, Fla., before Morrison even arrived. Pfaff was leaving the Gators.
"I was kind of in shock. It was a really scary time for me," Morrison says. "I'm getting ready to head off to a new school and, you know, the things that I expected were being turned upside down before I even got there."
Morrison waited anxiously for a month to learn who would be named the new multi-event coach at Florida. He was pleased when the university hired Rana Reider.
Morrison and Reider clicked immediately. Named the SEC Freshman of the Year and third-place finisher at the NCAA Indoor Championships as a sophomore, Morrison found immediate success.
As quickly as his relationship with Florida was mended, however, it was once again destroyed when head coach Mike Halloway sent Reider packing. Morrison knew that Reider's firing would lead to his own departure.
"Immediately after he got fired, I knew I was transferring," Morrison says. "It was just a matter of looking at the schools that would be a good fit at that point."
Upon his firing, Reider told Morrison to consider transferring to Berkeley to work with Cal multi-event coach Ed Miller.
"His coaching style fit Mike and how he needed to develop," says Reider. "It is a great fit for him. Not a lot of decathlon coaches are at coach Miller's level."
When Morrison chose Cal his second time around, Miller-who won the national championship in the decathlon as a Bears athlete in 1976-couldn't have been happier.
"I just thought I must have done something right in my life," Miller says. "I was ecstatic he chose us."
Cal head coach Tony Sandoval believes Morrison will benefit from more than just the coaching in Berkeley.
"I don't think he received the care that he needed," Sandoval says. "His educational, emotional and training needs couldn't be met at Florida."
So far, it appears as if Sandoval is right. Morrison broke the program record in the heptathlon in his first meet for the Bears.
He later broke his own record in the competition, managing a third-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Morrison's career at Cal is less than a year old, but he has already turned his attention toward what will come in the future.
He and every coach he's had along the way expect great things on both the collegiate and international levels.
"I need to learn to stop doubting Michael," Fulford says. "He always tends to prove himself. He is a special young man."
"The sky's the limit for Mike," adds Reider. "He's barely touched the surface of what his potential is.
Says Sandoval: "I see him leaving here someday with an NCAA title."
As a member of the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame and 27-year coach with the Bears, Miller has the historical perspective to pass judgment on Cal decathletes.
His highest praise goes to Morrison:
"He'll eventually be the best decathlete we've ever had."
Contact David Seawright at email@example.com.
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