When Chad Morton signed a 5 year $8 million deal with the Redskins this offseason, Washington gained its best return man since Brian Mitchell left town. With a career kick return average of almost 25 yards (24.4 YPR), Morton also has big play ability having scored 96 and 98 yard TD’s last season (both in season opener against Buffalo). But ask Chad Morton what he wants to do on the football field and you may be surprised at the answer. Chad just wants to be a running back.
All of his life, he’s just wanted to be a running back.
As a sophomore in high school, he started part-time as a running back and developed his love for the position. But he was moved to wide receiver for his junior season and he spent the entire year there. He was ready to start at running back in his senior season but he broke is collarbone in the first quarter of the first game of the season.
In fact at that point, exactly where Chad’s football career would go was anybody’s guess. Big college recruiters weren’t exactly beating down the door to woo a guy who hadn’t played a single half as a senior.
But football is in the Morton blood. Chad’s older brother Johnnie was at USC at the time and was establishing himself as one of the best receivers in Trojan history. The boys’ father, Johnnie Morton Sr., put a highlight tape together of Chad’s previous high school seasons and brought them to the USC’s coaches. Whether by talent or nepotism, USC offered Chad a scholarship.
Early days were tough as a redshirt freshman. He once said in a college interview that “I felt like I was a walk-on, like I didn’t really belong. I didn’t feel I was part of the Trojan family yet. I was on the side and trying to get in.” He was also moved to cornerback due to his size. People have always underestimated him because of his size.
When spring practices were started in 1996, Chad was moved back to running back. But a sprained knee slowed him down and when fall practices rolled around, he was back to cornerback. Despite that, injuries to two USC running backs, forced Chad into a 3rd string tailback position early in the season. He also started to see some special teams play. All of a sudden, he was a 3-way player. In one game against Illinois, he had 3 tackles, 9 carries for 28 yards and a touchdown, recovered a fumble and had an 11-yard punt return. He played exclusively on offense for one game against Oregon and he posted 143 yards on 13 carries including a game-breaking 73-yard touchdown run. He would see limited offensive action in one more game that season before moving back to defense exclusively.
When USC told Chad that he’d be changing positions again in 1997, his excitement was short-lived… still not to running back. He was being moved from cornerback to free safety. It proved to be a good move. By the 5th game of the season, he was a starter and would start the next 4 games. Then he was moved to tailback for 3 games. And all the while, he was starring on special teams. When 1997 was over, despite nagging injuries for the second half of the season, Chad had put up some impressive, diverse numbers. He made 25 tackles, had a 6-yard sack, intercepted 2 passes which he returned 32 yards (16.0 avg.), recovered 2 fumbles, forced a fumble (which he recovered) and broke up 5 passes on defense, and he also rushed for 214 yards (third on USC) on 30 carries (7.1 avg.) with 1 TD and caught 1 pass for 17 yards on offense. He capped off the season by receiving USC’s Bob Chandler Award as the top underclassman athlete/student/leader.
In his junior season, Chad finally would get what he wanted so badly. He started 8 games at tailback, and only an injury keeping him out of two games prevented him from posting a 1000-yard rushing season. He ran up 985 yards on 199 carries for a 4.9-yard average and had 6 TD’s. He also established himself as a good receiving back catching 18 passes for 136 yards and a TD. He was a 1998 All-Pac-10 honorable mention pick.
His senior season held similar success. His good vision and ability to hit holes would allow him to put up 1141 yards rushing on 262 attempts and 15 TD’s. He also had 16 catches for 79 yards. He had come to USC as the brother of Johnnie Morton, but he had made a name for himself. Having played at cornerback, free safety, tailback, wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner, his versatility was unquestionable.
NFL teams were leery of Morton’s size. He was passed over in the draft until the 7th round when the New Orleans Saints picked him up. He posted 1,656 all-purpose yards in his rookie season as a return specialist and as a 3rd down back and played in all 16 games. Despite his play and earning a community relations award, he was sent to the New York Jets before the 2001 season.
In New York, Chad was re-united with his USC head coach Paul Hackett, who had become the offensive co-ordinator for the Jets. He did see some special teams play… but no time at running back. In 2002, he wasted little time in establishing himself as the primary kick return man. In the first game of the regular season against Buffalo, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. The first one was for 96 yards and the second one was a 98 yarder in overtime for the win. He finished the season first in the AFC for return yards (2nd in NFL) and had an impressive 26.0-yard average. Despite his success on special teams, he carried the ball just 4 times.
And then came this fateful offseason and the now infamous arbitration hearing. The New York Jets got cute on their offer to Morton and he landed in the Redskins lap. Morton will assume both the kick return duties and the punt return duties in Washington, a role that he enjoys. But will he see any more duties? All of his life he has been ‘making up for his size’ with his blazing speed, and now he finds himself in the Fun ‘N Gun offense. Redskin coach Hue Jackson was the offensive co-ordinator at USC when Chad was defying the odds there. Steve Spurrier and Jackson will be looking for ways to get him the ball and utilize his ability to break the big play. Maybe finally Chad Morton will get to live his dream in the NFL — after all, Chad just wants to be a running back.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Mark Solway