EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Over 73,000 people packed Spartan Stadium for the team’s season opener against Central Michigan on Sep. 1st. Very few of them remember a simple play in the middle of the third quarter, a four-yard completion by quarterback Noah Kim to tight end Evan Morris.
There was nothing spectacular about the play. It did not come in a big moment. It did not swing the momentum of the game. It was simply one of 64 plays the Michigan State offense ran that September night.
But Morris remembers the play, and he always will. The four yard play was the first catch of his career. It was a play that validated years of hard work after the walk-on changed positions from kicker to tight end.
“The part that I’ll remember forever was, and I remember telling my parents, that the biggest part or the one thing that I want to do is to be able to contribute,” Morris said. “To be able to be in the record books. To be able to be on the piece of paper that if you look at this game, at this day, this year, you’ll see my name.”
There are simple moments and simple plays like this every day and in every game; moments that seem insignificant to 99 percent of us, but mean more than we could ever know to a select few.
The backstory which led Morris to his moment begins in Elsie, the small rural town where he grew up. Elsie is just a half-hour drive from East Lansing and combines with the neighboring village of Ovid to form the Ovid-Elsie school district.
“I think it was a huge culture shock coming to Lansing,” Morris said. “There’s not a lot of people [in Elsie], our whole high school and middle school is surrounded by corn fields. The middle school and high school were the same building. [It was] a lot different.”
Morris grew up a Michigan State fan and was a talented soccer player as a kid. Quickly, he found his ability on the soccer pitch translated as a kicker on the football field. He started to realize just how special his kicking talent was when he was in the sixth grade.
“The coolest thing that I still remember to this day was I think we lined up for like a 30 yard or 35, 40 yard field goal. Something crazy – at that age, of course – and I made it! I remember the varsity coach, Travis Long, came up to me and he was like ‘you keep doing that and you’ll start for us on varsity.’ And I was like ‘whoa man!’”
Morris did grow up to play kicker for Coach Long at Ovid-Elsie. He also played tight end and defensive end in high school.
When he was a junior, Morris traveled to Chicago to compete in a Kohl’s Kicking Camp, a national showcase for some of the top kickers from around the country.
“It was huge,” Morris said of the camp. “It was really overwhelming at first but I think I did significantly well and I got invited to another camp that was down in Florida and I was just starstruck. I was like ‘oh my word I didn’t know I was like, this good.’ I don’t think I was as good as I thought I was [looking back].”
Whether he was as good as he thought he was or not, Morris’ performance at the camps raised his profile to a Division I kicking prospect. When the lifelong MSU fan received an opportunity to come play for the Spartans, he didn’t wait long to commit.
“As soon as they said ‘you can come here as a walk-on’, I think it was within five minutes I called my mom, called my dad. I’m like ‘hey, I’m going to MSU! I’m going to MSU!’ This has been my dream school since I’ve been a little boy.”
Morris handled kickoff duties for two games as a freshman at MSU. But in the offseason, he made a commitment to trying something new; switching positions from kicker to tight end.
This commitment would lead to moments of doubt, countless hours of learning new concepts, and years of hard work with no guarantee it would ever pay off.
Morris said it was his idea. He had played tight end in high school and had seen his roommate at MSU, Tyler Hunt, make a similar transition. Teammates and friends also encouraged him to give it a try.
“I got [MSU Tight Ends Coach Ted Gilmore’s] attention and I said ‘hey, you know, is there any way, I’m thinking about trying out a little bit of tight end, is there any way that I could step in for a few practices and try this out?’” Morris recalled. “He immediately goes ‘how much do you weigh?’ and I lied and I said I was 20 pounds heavier [than I was].”
Gilmore gave Morris the chance, and Morris admits he wasn’t very good at the start. But he said the most challenging thing about making the transition was not the physicality of the position, but the mental side of it.
“The biggest thing that I always say is it’s not the – and this was a huge realization to me – was it’s not the athletic differences between one person to another but can you mentally be there? And can you, do you have that mindset and the ability to perform consistently? So the biggest part for me was I struggled mentally for the longest time.”
For the better part of three years, Morris’ only snaps came on special teams. He battled and battled to earn his way to more playing time at tight end, but knew it was far from a guarantee.
He did not get in a game at tight end in 2020 or 2021. He registered just eight snaps at the position in 2022. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Another offseason of hard work followed. Another nine months with no guarantees.
All of this is what made that four yard catch against Central Michigan so meaningful. After all the years of hard work he’d poured in, Morris’ name was etched in the box score: one reception for four yards.
“All I’ve wanted to do was to be on that field and be valued and be able to contribute while being a Spartan and being an MSU football player,” he said. “I grew up watching those guys.”
The chance to contribute is a simple and modest aspiration, but it’s one Morris has spent the past four years – and, really, his whole life – working toward.
“I don’t say it too much, my mom and my dad mostly say that they’re proud of me, but I guess I am pretty proud of myself. [I’m proud] that I’m able to come from Ovid-Elsie, a really small high school, and come here as a kicker and then transfer to tight end and even without having the team success, I think I have had my fair share of individual successes.”
Morris has played in all 11 games at tight end this fall. For the season, he’s registered four catches for eight yards.
He made his first career start on Saturday against Indiana.
Morris will have one final chance to contribute when Michigan State plays Penn State in the season finale on Friday night at Ford Field.