Zach Morrison was a star in Shorter’s early football years. Now the Hawks’ coach, he’s hit the ‘reset button,’ endured a tough 2020 and plans to ‘make some noise in the conference this fall.’

Zach Morrison was a star in Shorter’s early football years. Now the Hawks’ coach, he’s hit the ‘reset button,’ endured a tough 2020 and plans to ‘make some noise in the conference this fall.’

Truett’s Chick-fil-A Sports

Truett’s Chick-fli-A, 264 Shorter Ave., 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Drive-through, curbside and Door Dash.
Mount Berry Mall, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (curbside, carryout, Door Dash). Shipping Container, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. All Monday-Saturday.

Shorter Head Football Coach Zach Morrison gets his players fired up for practice in February. Shorter photo.

By Natalie Simms

Just over three years ago, Zach Morrison was offered the opportunity to do something he thought wouldn’t be attainable for two more decades, much less at the age of 31. He was offered the job as the head football coach at his alma mater, Shorter University. Morrison jumped at the opportunity and now in his third season with the Hawks, he hasn’t looked back and sees nothing but good things on the horizon.

Zack Morrison

“It’s just a blessing to be here and get this job. It was my goal to have this job in my late 50s…it was definitely not planned in my 30s,” says Morrison, now 35, who was named Shorter’s head coach in January 2018. He is the school’s third head coach since the program began in 2005.

Morrison played center on the offensive line of the inaugural Shorter team from 2005-2008, starting every game. He was named an All-Conference player during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, as well as a member of the NAIA All-American team his last two years. He helped the Hawks offense to the lead in the nation in rushing yards as they won the Conference Championship in 2008.

“I played high school football at Forsyth Central High School in Cumming and was named to the All-State football team. I thought I would play at the FCS level…I was being recruited by Wofford, Georgia Southern and Furman. But the closer we got to signing day, I was left with my hands in the air,” he says.

“I was really disillusioned by the whole recruiting process. So, I went the Ju-Co (Junior College) route and went to Gainesville State Community College. One day, my dad (who played at the University of Georgia) saw an article that Shorter was starting a team. He told me I could go be a big fish in a small pond and have the opportunity to meet my full potential.

“So, I just drove up to Rome and showed up…met Coach (Phil) Jones…I didn’t have an appointment or anything. I just told him I wanted the opportunity to play. He gave me a walk-on spot.”

Morrison says he knew he was going to have to compete to win a starting position, along with a scholarship, and that he did, becoming a leader on the team.

Jim O’Hara, former sports editor for the Rome News-Tribune, covered the Hawks in those early years. He says Morrison was a “cornerstone” of the team.

“He believed in what Phil Jones was doing and, in turn, Phil believed in Zach,” he says. “That first class of Hawks that played at Shorter came together in amazing ways and wound up achieving success quicker than most new programs. And, as the center for the team’s offense, Zach developed not only as an All-Conference snapper but also as a leader.”

Former Shorter Assistant Coach Tim Mathis, who is now head coach at Cumberland University, worked very closely with Morrison as the Offensive Line coach.

“He obviously was a great, coachable player and did anything I would ask,” says Mathis. “It goes back to building trust…that trust factor between a player and a coach. Zach always gave it his all…I couldn’t tell a difference between practice or a game. He has a passion to do well and that’s the reason he was the player that he was.”

Morrison says the person who has made the biggest impact on his career and the reason he is a coach today is Jones.

“The first day we had a team meeting and Coach Jones was talking about relationships. Not only about relationships between us as players and coach but about our relationship with Jesus. I had never had a coach talk about a relationship with Christ. He talked about how we were all on different walks and always related it to Biblical principles,” says Morrison.

Morrison with Coach Phil Jones.

“I saw the impact Coach Jones had on people…18 to 22 years old are such crucial years in character development. Coach was like a father figure to all of us and I really got into coaching because of Jones. I not only loved football but I loved the relationship aspect. That’s how he built this program was to trust in him…you could talk to him about anything. And it’s the same for me today.”

Prior to joining Shorter’s staff, Morrison served as a high school football coach at Coosa High, East Jackson High, Statesboro High and Kennesaw Mountain High School.

He knew coming into Shorter that he would be rebuilding the program that his mentor started back in 2005. It was a challenge he felt called to take.

“In January 2018, I had 36 players on the entire roster. Several had low GPAs and were endanger of flunking out. I started with relationships…I met with every player, looked at what each needed. I also asked them what they thought about the different players in different positions. I quickly found out they really didn’t know each other. I was going to have to fix that,” he says.

“I was hitting a reset button on the program. I threw a lot of energy into fundraising, hiring staff and recruiting players. That first year, we raised $58,000 for new helmets and uniforms. I recruited 80 freshmen in that first class. I have 40 juniors still with me and 10 seniors who have stuck it out.

“My first year, we played six schools in the Top 25 on the field with 90% of our team freshmen. We were kids playing grown men.”

Shorter went 0-11 in 2018 and 1-10 in 2019. That lone win was the first for the school since Oct. 3, 2015. The pandemic threw a wrench in the 2020 season, canceling all conference play but the Hawks are now playing a five-game spring season against non-conference teams. They lost their first game on Saturday, 35-3 to Kennesaw State, and will face Erskine College on March 13.

“It’s been 465 days since the last time we played so we’re just excited to be back on the field. We are just going to continue to drive, work hard and prepare for every game,” he says. “We have COVID measures in place and are testing every week. We’ve been blessed so far the no positive COVID cases this semester.”

Aside from COVID, it’s been a challenging 12 months. Morrison lost his mentor, Coach Jones, to COVID and Alzheimer’s Disease just after Christmas. He and his wife, Leigh Ann, who married in July 2019, suffered a miscarriage (in late August, they announced they’re expecting again). And now, he is coaching two football seasons in one year with spring and an 11-game fall season ahead.

“It’s been tough…the hours have been crazy. But my wife and I did have a lot of time together this past fall to relax on the weekends since we didn’t have football. But now, I have two seasons in one year…I’m here at 7 a.m. and out at 11 p.m. on Mondays…the evenings aren’t that late every day,” he says.

“But I do make time to have dinner every night with my wife. I live almost on campus, so I run home real quick to eat and back to the office if its during football season. I am very blessed to have Leigh Ann…its tough being a coach’s wife.”

Morrison is excited about the season and what’s ahead.

“Our guys have grown. We’ve gotten into God’s Word. We talk a lot about Nehemiah who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. His friends, family and community said he couldn’t do it. But he did…he built it up the right way. That’s what we are doing,” he says.

“I’m really excited. I’m extremely optimistic and I have a lot of patience. I think we will make some noise in the conference this fall for sure.”

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