COLTS NECK - Alec Morris showed potential in his first varsity football start three years ago.
A traumatic foot injury caused him and the rest of the Southern Regional High School football team to wonder what might have been the past two years.
Now a senior, Morris is finally healthy and playing as if he wants to make up for lost time.
The wide receiver and defensive back caught a touchdown pass and made a key interception as the Rams beat Colts Neck 21-6 in a Shore Conference game Saturday afternoon.
"It feels awesome to be back," Morris said. "It feels like a dream."
Morris started as a sophomore in 2009. He caught six passes for 110 yards in his first game - a 30-6 loss to Toms River East. His size (6-foot-2) and speed made him one of the better players on the field that night.
But he broke a bone in the top of his foot in the third quarter of that game and finished the contest on crutches. Morris missed the rest of Southern's games that season except for the Thanksgiving contest against Barnegat, in which he saw limited action.
Morris also missed the first half of his junior season because a screw surgically inserted into the foot to heal the break began to cause pain and had to be removed. He played just defense the second half of last year.
"It really was depressing," Morris said of his injury. "I wasn't myself for the rest of (his sophomore) football season. It took a big toll on me. It motivated me to work harder and harder."
Southern is a much better team with Morris.
"He started as a sophomore," Rams coach Chuck Donohue said. "That tells you what you need to know. He's heady. He's smart. He's tough. He's a football player. We haven't had him (whole). We've had pieces of him."
It didn't take Morris long Saturday to show the traits Donohue described. He caught a 38-yard pass from Southern quarterback Dan Higgins on the Rams' first play from scrimmage.
Morris then made two key plays to help Southern grab and keep the lead.
He caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Higgins with 21.1 seconds left in the first half to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
Colts Neck began the second half by recovering an onside kick. The Cougars (1-1) drove to the Southern 8-yard line and appeared poised to tie the game. But Morris intercepted a pass over the middle in the end zone to stop the drive.
Southern took over at its 20-yard line and drove 80 yards in 15 plays to take a 14-0 lead.
"Once (the interception) happened, the momentum switched back to us, and we just kept going," Morris said.
Morris finished with five catches for 91 yards. His presence gives Southern its most diverse offense in years. The Rams are nowhere near as conservative as they've been in the past.
Higgins completed 12-of-19 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Mike Gesicki caught three passes for 41 yards. Wide receiver Kevin Barreau ran 15 yards on a reverse for a first down during Southern's third-quarter scoring drive.
"Our speed on the outside is so good that we can throw the ball," Higgins said. "They (Colts Neck) were playing off us. We started throwing and letting our guys use their speed to make moves."
Running back T.J. Bellissimo caught a touchdown pass and prevented the Cougars from concentrating solely on the pass by rushing 34 times for 107 yards and a score.
"We can throw and we can run," Morris said. "We have answers for everything. If you put too many guys in the box, we can throw it outside. If you put too many guys outside, we'll run the ball inside."
The Rams (1-1) were breathing a bit easier after the victory. They opened last week with a 28-7 loss to Red Bank Catholic, considered the Shore Conference's top team. Southern didn't want to start 0-2.
"Anytime you win your first game, it takes a millstone off you," Donohue said. "We have to be in a position to learn from this and continue to get better."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Southern Regional 0 7 7 7-21
Colts Neck 0 0 0 6-6
SR-Morris 20 pass from Higgins (Yaiser kick)
SR-Bellissimo 10 pass from Higgins (Yaiser kick)
SR-Bellissimo 2 run (Yaiser kick)
CN-Cottrell 13 run (kick missed)
Records-Southern Regional 1-1; Colts Neck 1-1