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
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,
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
A real experience."