The Seahawks’ Doug Baldwin and Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris grew up eating spaghetti dinners prepared by the Seattle receiver’s mother every Saturday before youth football games back in their hometown of Pensacola, Fla.
Now the two buddies will be on opposite sidelines when the Seahawks travel to Washington to face the Redskins in an NFC wild-card matchup Sunday.
“He was actually a hard-hitting linebacker, and I was the running back,” Baldwin said. “He was always aggressive, but very light-mannered; to himself and quiet. He never really was outwardly aggressive except on the football field.”
Baldwin said the two parted ways after youth football, attending different high schools in the Pensacola area. But
Baldwin kept up with his friend and old teammate, including his impressive performances at running back for coach Howard Schnellenberger at Florida Atlantic University, where Morris ran for 3,529 yards and 27 touchdowns. The Owls finished 1-11 Morris’ senior season.
Baldwin told Seahawks general manager John Schneider he should consider taking a late-round flyer on Morris in last April’s NFL draft. Instead, the Redskins snapped up Morris in the sixth round.
Because of his sturdy frame (5-foot-9, 220 pounds) and pedestrian 40-yard time (4.67 seconds), most teams evaluated Morris as a fullback.
But Washington coach Mike Shanahan saw a perfect, one-cut runner for his zone-blocking scheme, similar to the 1,000-yard rushers he churned out while in Denver, including Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis.
“Here’s a guy that was on a football team that didn’t have a great record and you could see some runs — some 4-, 5-yard runs — that we knew were special at the time,” Shanahan said. “He had what we looked for in a running back in that zone read, and we thought it would fit good within our system. And he’s been excellent since the day he walked in here.”
Baldwin thought Morris would fit nicely into Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable’s versions of the zone-blocking scheme.
“I even told Schneider to look out for him,” Baldwin said. “Schneider said that they would check him out. And in the preseason I told him, ‘Hey, you didn’t bring my guy in, but look out for him because he’s going to probably end up starting.’”
Baldwin’s prediction proved correct, as Morris passed over Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Roy Helu on the depth chart to grab the starting running back job.
And while quarterback Robert Griffin III has grabbed most of the headlines, Morris has put together an impressive rookie season, finishing second in the league in rushing yards with 1,613, along with 13 touchdowns. Morris became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,600 yards as a rookie.
Morris follows in the footsteps of some pretty good running backs to come out of Pensacola, including the NFL’s all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith and Cleveland Browns first-round draft choice Trent Richardson.
“It’s local pride, Pensacola pride, and being happy about my guy being able to do great things,” Baldwin said.