Jan. 1, 2014
Mention Legion Field to Vanderbilt senior defensive tackle Jared Morse and his eyes will light up.
On Saturday when he joins his teammates at Legion Field for the BBVA Compass Bowl, Morse's mind will be flooded with memories of his only other game at the historic venue.
It's not often a defensive lineman scores a touchdown, but when they do, you can be assured the memory remains as fresh as if the game were played yesterday. Such is the case for Morse.
As a high school senior in Oxford, Ala., just 65 miles east of Birmingham on I-20, Morse picked up a fumble against Huffman High School at Legion Field and rumbled 35 yards for a touchdown.
"My friend stripped the ball and I caught it in the air and outran their running back to the end zone," Morse recalled.
It was his second and last touchdown of his career. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone as part of the "jumbo package" during his junior season.
The fumble recovery for a touchdown capped what was a very memorable game for Morse and his teammates at Oxford High School.
"We started out and the offense got the ball and scored a touchdown," Morse said. "Then we kicked an onside kick, scored another touchdown. Then we kicked a mortar kick, recovered it and scored another touchdown. So it was 21-0 before I even got on the field."
Morse will return to Legion Field for the first time on Saturday since that 2009 game against Huffman in what will be the final game of his collegiate career. The Commodores will look for their second consecutive bowl victory when they take on Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl at noon Saturday.
The Alabama native expects to have 25 friends and family members in attendance at the game and is excited to have the opportunity to end his Vanderbilt career in the state where he first began playing the sport.
"Just knowing everybody is going to be there, it is a really great way to go out in front of hopefully 50,000 Vandy fans with 25 of my friends and family in the stands," Morse said. "It just couldn't be better."
Like all of Vanderbilt's seniors, Morse has seen remarkable progress made within the program during his four years on campus. From 2-10 as a freshman to three straight bowl games, Morse has played an important role in laying the foundation for years to come.
After playing in eight of 12 games as a true freshman, Morse has played in every game of his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. His first two seasons were spent mostly as a reserve defensive tackle, but he burst onto the scene as a junior when he finished fifth on the team with 9.0 tackles for loss. He also led all defensive lineman with four pass breakups.
As a senior, Morse has earned eight starts at defensive tackle. His tackles for loss are down, but he is one tackle shy of matching his 2012 total and he is tied for third on the team with four pass breakups - tops among defensive linemen.
"Jared isn't an unbelievable pass rusher; he just knows angles and is so smart," defensive line coach Sean Spencer said. "He knows where he is supposed to pick a particular rush lane. I think that is what makes him special."
Time flies in college, and the reality has begun to sink in for Morse. He has one game left to play in his Vanderbilt career. It is a career that he has helped the Commodores win as many games as they have lost. The senior class sits at 25-25 heading into Saturday's game. A win would make the seniors the first class to graduate with a winning four-year record since the seniors on the 1975 team finished 22-21-2 in their careers.
"Knowing how far we have come and being able to say we went out with three straight bowls and hopefully with a winning record, it couldn't have been better," Morse remarked. "I could not have planned a better college experience than the one I've had here at Vandy. It is hard to describe, but it has been just the greatest experience I could have imagined."