Prep Pals Helping Commodores

By Tony Lane

Picture two smallish high school freshmen polishing off dinner in a Chinese restaurant, circa 1997. The waiter brings each of them a fortune cookie with the check. For curiosity's sake, they crack open the cookies and read each other their fortunes. "You will be a college football player," each one says to the other.

They laugh and wad up the little slips of paper. What a cheap restaurant - the same fortune in two cookies. And this "college football" nonsense? They'd settle for some grass time with their high school team, a Tennessee titan before the NFL ones arrived.

Discount Chinese fortunes at your own peril. Dominique Morris and Moses Osemwegie may have never set foot in P.F. Chiang's Bistro, but they never thought they'd set foot on the grass at Dudley Field either. Forget merely playing; the red-shirt freshmen from Montgomery Bell Academy are starting for Vanderbilt.

"I never thought I'd be playing football in college," said Osemwegie, a six-foot, 220-pound linebacker. "I just never really even thought about it until my senior year in high school, when I saw my first college letter [of interest]."

Morris, who played sparingly for the Big Red as a ninth-grader but didn't commit fully to football until his junior season, had to hear it firsthand before he'd believe college football was a possibility.

"I got a call from coach [Woody] Widenhofer. That was kind of surprising," the 6-0, 195-pound Morris said. "I had received a letter before that, but I knew it was real when I got a phone call."

Osemwegie notched the first tackle from scrimmage during Vandy's 45-3 loss to Georgia Tech and added three more solos and two assists for six tackles total. Morris, a cornerback, contributed five tackles and defended gallantly on the signature play of the game, a fabulous one-handed two-yard touchdown grab by Tech receiver Will Glover.

"Moses was defensive player of the game," head coach Bobby Johnson said. "He made a bunch of tackles, didn't make many mental errors. Dominique, I thought, did a great job. Even on the touchdown pass, he was in almost perfect position. He made a good play and that guy just made a fantastic catch."

For two guys making their first collegiate appearance under the heat lamp of Bobby Dodd Stadium, Johnson was doubly impressed by their efforts.

"When you're going out there and playing your first college football game against a pretty good team, there's got to be butterflies, self-doubt, nervousness … all those factors come in there and keep you from doing your very best," Johnson noted.

Glover's catch still has Morris shaking his head. A corner's confidence can't ever be broken, and even a difficult catch by one of the ACC's top receivers isn't swallowed easily.

"There's a lot that I could have done, that I should've done, but I didn't do," said Morris. "I've [had] 50 times where people told me that there's nothing you could have done. It's a great catch, you're on SportsCenter, this and that. But I still think I could've done something."

Osemwegie and Morris are on the grand stage because of the tremendous amount of work they put in behind the set, beginning at MBA under head coach Ricky Bowers. The Big Red won state titles in Osemwegie's three varsity seasons and won every game in the Morris' junior and senior years. Both also led MBA to Division II titles in basketball, and Morris was a state champion sprinter.

"They were smaller, so their strength training made a big difference for them over the course of four years," said Bowers. "Their choosing to participate in a number of sports helped them. They had sort of a continual training going on.

"They both played on great teams … and that has an effect on one's confidence level and work ethic and expectation."

Each player is an only child in their respective families, so Osemwegie and Morris have bonded off the field as much as they compete on it.

"We've been close since my first year in high school. We hang out, go to parties together, go to movies, even double date sometimes. He's kind of like a brother that I never had," Osemwegie said.

"If he's not my best friend, he's one of my best friends," said Morris, then he echoed, "He's been like a brother to me, and was there throughout high school. He taught me the ropes, told me how to study, get me used to the school and then the football."

Many fortunes yet untold await these two Commodores, and as disappointing as their first go-around was, Osemwegie and Morris can both say they blown apart their own meager adolescent expectations.

"I've always seen [college players] on TV. I imagined myself playing against them," Morris said. "When it came true, it was… real. A real experience."



Vanderbilt Athletic Department
2601 Jess Neely Drive
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