Football Preview 2017: Free safety Morris an ‘enforcer’ in Judges’ secondary

Handley's Ra'Shaad Morris takes a water break during a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Ra’Shaad Morris isn’t exactly an imposing figure when he walks into a room. But on the football field, the John Handley High School senior free safety has developed a reputation as a force in the Judges’ defensive secondary.

Judges second-year head coach John Davis recently called Morris an “enforcer” on Handley’s defense, and started to call the senior the team’s best tackler before stopping mid-sentence and declaring Morris the Judges’ best defensive player, period.

“It’s very rare in high school football that your best tackler is a free safety,” Davis said earlier this month. “He’s a kid that he’s up over 150 tackles already going into his senior season. He loves the contact. He’s a smaller-framed guy (but) he loves the contact. It’s reassuring for the rest of those guys back there that he’s an eraser.”

That penchant for seeking out collisions, Morris said, has always been an aspect of his play on the football field. It’s also his favorite part – he’s in his element when he’s coming downhill at a ball carrier.

“I just love the game,” Morris said. “Defense is my main (position) so I like just hitting people, running around, making plays.”

Handley's Ra'Shaad Morris catches a pass. Rich Cooley/Daily

For Handley to continue making strides in its rebuilding process under Davis, Morris will need to continue to do that in the secondary in 2017.

Last season Morris finished second on the team with 72 tackles (45 solo), including four for loss, and snagged an interception. He enters his senior year this fall garnering some college attention as the Judges prepare to kick off the new season today at Warren County.

Handley has already had one player, senior lineman Bobby Teahan (Howard University), commit to an NCAA Division I school this summer, but Davis said Morris has been the Judges’ “main attraction” for college scouts. Morris, who had yet to field a scholarship offer as of Aug. 7, listed Charlotte and Delaware as a pair of schools that have shown interest.

When asked what makes Morris such an effective tackler in the secondary, Davis, who spent six years as the defensive coordinator at Division III Gallaudet University, said the senior safety has no fear.

“He drives on the football and he trusts what he reads. He does a good job just believing what he sees and he’s played enough football now that he can digest plays fast,” Davis said. “He believes what he sees and when he gets there he goes with intention. It’s not just ‘I’m running downhill.’ He’s going downhill with intentions. I’ve never had a safety in all my years of coaching that plays physical football the way he does.”

Morris’ status as a leader in Handley’s defensive backfield will be important for a defense aiming to cut down on some not-so-pleasant statistical numbers from last season. Though the Judges improved on a winless 2015 with a 2-8 record last fall, Handley surrendered 34.6 points per game – 41.8 points per game in its eight losses – and 383 yards per contest.

Morris said big plays hurt the Judges in 2016, a result that he takes personally as the last line of defense for his unit.

“No big plays, that’s the main (responsibility) for the safety, no big plays given up,” Morris said.

“When they make big plays basically it all goes on me.”

To prepare for his senior season, his third as a varsity starter, Morris said he attended offseason camps at larger universities than he had in the past, trips that included destinations to Charlotte, Delaware and James Madison University.

“I went to a lot of good camps and hit the weight room harder and harder every day,” Morris said.

Davis said Morris, who has six interceptions in his high school career, has improved his ball skills so much in the offseason that he’ll now start at wide receiver as well. Davis added that Morris likely could’ve been one of the Judges’ top receiving targets in 2016 but Handley lacked depth in the secondary and “couldn’t spare (Morris) a snap on defense.”

The Judges are deeper in the defensive backfield entering the 2017 season – cornerbacks Jorden Davenport and Kevin Curry are also returning starters in Handley’s 4-2-5 scheme – but that doesn’t mean Morris’ impact will be any less vital.

“I think we’ll go as he goes,” Davis said of Morris, one of the Judges’ five team captains. “I mean he’s responsible for setting our strength. He’s responsible for helping us digest our checks. We’ll improve as he improves.”