Updated:ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) (AP)
Stephen Morris will leave Miami ranking among its all-time passing leaders in completions, attempts and yards. He's also leaving with a degree, which makes him particularly proud.
Best of all, he's leaving when he should.
When the NCAA mess over the acts of a former booster struck Miami in 2011, it jeopardized Morris' future. Bowl bans were coming. Speculation was rampant that massive sanctions were on the way. And through it all, even when things looked most bleak, Morris never wavered.
"I never even looked at other schools. Didn't even think about it," Morris said. "That thought never even crossed my mind. Miami's my home and I made a decision to come here and I was going to stick with it, no matter what. I was going to make the best out of this opportunity. And if I left, who else was going to leave? That's not who I am. I stand by my decisions."
Now, with his name all over the Miami record books already, Morris has one more game before hanging up his orange and green for good. The Hurricanes take on No. 18 Louisville on Saturday in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla., a matchup of Miami natives at quarterback with Morris on one side and the Cardinals' Teddy Bridgewater on the other.
Morris needs 132 yards to become the second Miami quarterback ever with two seasons of at least 3,000 passing yards, the other being Gino Torretta. But what's most important to Morris is that the Hurricanes (9-3) have a chance to finish with 10 wins for the first time in a decade.
"That opportunity to win 10 games, that's what's keeping me going," Morris said. "It hasn't been done here in so long. It isn't about me, it's about the seniors and everyone we took this journey with. We have an opportunity to just win our last game, knowing it's our last game. We've got a great opportunity. We haven't had this in so long."
Miami didn't go to bowl games in 2011 and 2012 while waiting for the NCAA mess to become settled. It's now a thing of the past, and even though Miami failed in its quest to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, Morris believes that the Hurricanes are on the cusp of returning to the national picture.
He's certain that Miami coach Al Golden has the Hurricanes pointed the right way.
"It's a huge change and a huge shift in direction from where we were going to where we are now," Morris said. "He taught me how to be a man, how to be a face of a program but how to be humble at the same time. I'm going to remember what he taught me forever. You can't lead without following first. It took me some time, but to have the respect of these guys, that means everything to me and he taught me how to make that happen."
Golden preaches discipline and leadership, and as his tenure at Miami grows more roots, he's found that his players have assumed more and more control of their own locker room.
It's the players like Morris, he said, who have made that possible.
"Just to see him develop and his leadership develop and everything he's worked for and everything he's fought for, it truly is incredible," Miami offensive lineman Brandon Linder said. "I look up to him. I take some of the things he does and I work with them. The things he does right, I put them in my toolbox, the way he speaks in public and his leadership qualities. I appreciate those things."
Adds Miami backup quarterback Ryan Williams, who followed Morris into graduation earlier this month and will likely follow him as the starter in 2014: "He likes to have fun, but he's focused. He's always focused."
These days, Morris is mostly focused on ending college with a win.
Stats, like him being one touchdown pass away from 50 in his career and 264 yards shy of 8,000, they'll all mean something later in life. He stayed to lead, and that's why Saturday means as much to Morris as any game he's played as a Hurricane.
"I just want to be remembered as one of those guys who was the same guy every day, who teammates respected, who gave the same respect back to everyone that I met," Morris said. "Image is important, but on the field, a quarterback who's trying to help the team win is what you really want."