The Encore Quarterback: Chandler Morris and the art of stepping in for a championship team

Photo by Alex Campuzano | Edit by DCTF

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Chandler Morris assumed the starting quarterback role for a TCU program that everyone expected to crash back down to earth this season.

The Horned Frogs captured the magic of Hypnotoad last year, winning five one-score games. Surely, it couldn't be repeated. Quarterback Max Duggan finished second in Heisman voting, the embodiment of that scrappy team. He'd piloted TCU, picked seventh in the preseason Big 12 poll, to a 13–2 record and the National Championship game. 

While TCU battled to a storybook season, Morris fought his storm from the sideline. He supported his team and broke down opposing defenses' strategy with Duggan between every drive. But both quarterbacks knew their roles at one point were reversed just months prior. Morris was the starter in the season opener before an MCL injury sidelined him for a few weeks that morphed into an entire season as Duggan caught fire. 

It was his third season as a backup. He'd spent his freshman season as the third-stringer at Oklahoma. Then he transferred to TCU and earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week in his first career start against Baylor in 2021 with 531 total yards, yet played in just four games. But last year was the hardest. He'd gotten the opportunity only to have it ripped away.

"Last year was definitely the toughest year for me, but it was the year that I grew the most and learned the most things and really matured," Morris said. "It was needed. I wouldn’t change it to this day. I’d never change the experience and the storm I went through last year because I wouldn’t be the person who I am today without it." 

Now, Morris is proving he can succeed Duggan. He's coming off his best game as a young starter, throwing for 265 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-17 win over SMU.

But people who wondered if Chandler Morris could step in for a departed star don't know Chandler Morris.

Just a 40-mile trip east on I-30 from TCU's campus, three photographs are displayed in the Highland Park football team's weight room. They're the quarterbacks who've won a state championship under hall of fame head coach Randy Allen.

First up is Super Bowl champion Matthew Stafford in his Los Angeles Rams jersey, who won state in 2005. In the middle is John Stephen Jones, donning an Arkansas jersey. The grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, John Stephen became a legend himself at Highland Park when he quarterbacked the Scots to back-to-back state titles in 2016 and 2017. In the 5A DI State Championship against Manvel, he threw for a state title record 564 yards and led Highland Park from down 10 points in the final three minutes.

The third and final picture is Chandler Morris in his TCU uniform. He'd faced the tall task of following Jones in 2018. And he'd guided Highland Park to a 16–0 record.

Randy Allen knew when Morris moved to Highland Park in eighth grade that he'd be the starting quarterback one day. He'd first met him in 2005 when the Scots faced Chandler's father Chad Morris's Stephenville High School team in the state semifinals. A four-year-old Chandler darted around on the sidelines that night. Allen kept up with Chad as the elder Morris became a state champion head coach at Lake Travis and then the offensive coordinator at Clemson. Allen attended his introductory press conference as SMU's head coach in 2014. He'd also watched Chandler blossom into an intriguing quarterback prospect.

"He lived and breathed football," Allen said. "He was throwing the football and dreaming about being a great quarterback from the time he got to Highland Park."

Morris's identity as a football player has been crafted over a decade of watching his father coach quarterbacks. Jevan Snead was the first guy he fell in love watching in 2005 at Stephenville. Between compiling a 23–2 career record and two all-state selections for his head coach Chad Morris, Snead would babysit his kids, Chandler and older sister Mackenzie.

As a fifth grader, Chandler stood next to his dad on the sidelines while he recruited future Clemson star Deshaun Watson at his high school games. Chad would turn to Chandler and point out how Watson always threw a catchable ball for his receivers, taking some heat off it on a slant route and only firing it when he needed to thread it through a tight window. 

So, when he was a junior at Highland Park taking over where Jones left off, everything about the position came naturally to him. He knew how to be a leader and what coaches wanted out of their quarterbacks, such as the ability to understand route concepts and how to decipher defensive coverage. 

"I didn't realize I took away so much watching my dad's players until I got to the college level," Morris said. "And even in high school."

But he almost didn't get the chance to play that 2018 season. Chad took the Arkansas head coach job in December 2017 and had to decide whether to move his family out of the state. He let Chandler make the decision. Son had sacrificed for Dad, moving all over the country whenever a new job occurred growing up. Now, he wanted to stay and be the guy at Highland Park. So Chad moved to Arkansas while the rest of the family stayed put. 

Chandler could've ducked the pressure. Instead, he faced it head-on.

"He knew the expectations and embraced it," Allen said. "He's never backed away from high expectations, or, in this case, following a great team and a great quarterback."

Highland Park's team motto for that year was 'The Show Goes On.' Sure, they'd lost a prolific quarterback in Jones, but they had a coach's kid in the wings. There was so much hype around Morris's name. He had offers from Clemson and Auburn before he'd started a Varsity game. The city gathered for the first game of the season against Rockwall wondering if this quarterback could lead them to a third-consecutive championship. 

Five plays into his first start, Morris ripped a 70-yard rushing touchdown. It was one of six scores for him on the night. He hadn't flinched in the face of expectations.

"Growing up watching my dad, he was always in pressure situations," Morris said. "Coaching is a brutal business. My mom, I say it every time; she’s the strongest person I've ever met. She's born and raised in East Texas and that’s her personality. She's a tough person, and I think that’s where I get it from."

Morris announced himself as another dynamic Highland Park quarterback in the Rockwall game, but his signature performance came in the fourth round of the playoffs against Tyler John Tyler.

Highland Park seemed doomed in its three-peat quest, trailing 35-14 at the start of the fourth quarter before Morris helped take the game over. He threw a six-yard screen for a touchdown with just over ten minutes left. After a Highland Park interception, he threw another 28-yard touchdown pass. Another stop and Morris ran another touchdown from 14 yards out to tie the game. Then, with nine seconds remaining, Morris scored his fourth and final touchdown of the quarter, sealing Highland Park's win and a comeback victory so familiar to the one he'd witnessed Jones pull off from the sideline a year earlier.

Two weeks later, Highland Park won its third-straight state title.

So it's no surprise in 2023 that Morris has TCU at 3–1 and is excelling in the wake of Duggan's departure. He proved he could follow a great quarterback five years ago. His picture forever hangs in the weight room as a testament to that season.

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