By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

If you grow up in Morgan County with the last name of Morris, the bar is set pretty high when it comes to athletic achievement.

Gary Morris cleared that bar by being a three-sport star at Decatur High in the 1970s and followed that with a successful college football career.

Morris joins his late father, Harold, and his uncle, Earl, in the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame. Harold was inducted in 2004. Earl was inducted in 1991.

"I can remember when the family would gather on Sundays at my grandparents' farm," Morris said. "There were a lot of grandkids and we would always be playing ball."

Like his father and uncle, Morris grew up working on a family farm. When the farm work was done, Morris would head to either the basketball goal in the cow pasture or to throw baseballs at the strike zone he had taped on the side of the pump house.

"I loved baseball and there was some really good baseball in Cotaco back in those days," Morris said. "When I played youth league baseball, we would go to Decatur to play the best competition."

The desire to play the best competition led to Morris transferring to Decatur City Schools in the eighth grade. After one year at Oak Park, he advanced to Decatur High, where Uncle Earl was the head basketball coach.

"He always coached the ninth grade team, so I got to play for him right away," Morris said. "I learned real fast that Coach could be tough on me. I'm glad he was. I knew neither one of us wanted people to think that I got to play just because I was his nephew."

The 1976 graduate started on the varsity as a junior and senior. Those two seasons had more losses than wins, but Morris was an All-Morgan County selection as a senior.

"Sometimes in high school you have peaks and valleys with talent," Earl Morris said. "If it wasn't for Gary and Isaac Bass playing as well as they did, I think the fans at Decatur might have run me out of town after those two seasons."

It was on the baseball field that Morris made his first impact at Decatur. His hitting ability had him in the starting lineup as a freshman at third base.

"If Gary had done like what a lot of kids do today and stuck with just one sport, I think he could have had a great future in baseball," Earl Morris said. "He was a really good left-handed hitter."

It turned out that football would be the sport that guided Morris' future after high school and he didn't play the sport until his junior season.

"Coach (Earl) Webb talked me into playing football," Morris said. "He had a quarterback move out of state and wanted me to be the back-up quarterback. Playing quarterback for Coach Webb was not complicated. Basically, it was just hand the ball off."

Morris went from back-up to starter by the third game. He opened his senior season in 1975 season as the starting quarterback, but an injury sidelined him in the third game. That opened the door for a sophomore named Benny Perrin.

"Benny played so well that when I got back Coach Webb decided he needed to find another place for me to play," Morris said. "I moved to safety on defense."

As valuable as Morris was on either offense or defense, it was his punting skills that made him even more of a weapon for the Red Raiders. His specialty was pinning an opponent inside their 15.

"I really taught myself how to punt," Morris said. "I learned to kick the ball to where it would turnover just right at the highest point. It would spin and bounce backwards when it hit."

His punting ability landed him in California at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. In two seasons at the junior college, he averaged 42 yards a kick. He went on to play at California Polytechnic State University where he kicked for two seasons and averaged 43 yards a kick.

Morris had a successful tryout with the Los Angeles Rams. He was invited to fall camp, but a hamstring injury while preparing for camp ended his football career.

"Whenever I'm at the courthouse, I go look at my dad's hall of fame plaque," Morris said. "To think that I will have one up there, too, is quite an honor."

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