CLEMSON — He zigged and zagged his way through the running drills at Clemson’s indoor football facility while sweat dripped from his forehead and the sound of coaches’ whistles echoed off the walls. He wore a plain white T-shirt and grey gym shorts.
Most of his fellow walk-on hopefuls trying out for the Clemson football team left when practice concluded. But Greg Morris hung around to chat with head coach Dabo Swinney. Many of his peers were punters or kickers. But Morris was with the defense, though moving a bit slower than most Tiger hopefuls.
All of them are 18 to 22 years old. Morris is 45.
Hoping to become the oldest player to ever suit up for the Tigers’ football team, Morris went through a series of intense agility and skill drills Monday afternoon in what was an open audition for walk-ons should Swinney have a spot come open in the future. It started out as a joke — “just try it,” Morris’s wife Tanya would tell him, “you’ve got nothing to lose” — but the more he thought about it, the more he got on board.
Morris, however, has little to no chance of making the Clemson team. Asked Monday about Morris, Swinney just smiled.
But a jovial former high school cornerback, Morris is at a point in his life where he hopes to have no regrets. It’s why he decided to make a sudden career change after 22 years as a licensed master electrician in Richmond, Va. It’s why he arrived on Swinney’s field unafraid Monday. And it’s why he decided to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree nearly three decades after he finished high school.
“We moved (to Clemson) about two years ago — kind of a two-fold decision. One was to take care of (Tanya’s) mom. And the other was to pursue a passion that I had,” Morris explained. “I met a deaf guy, it’s been several years ago now, and I just couldn’t speak with him. So that kind of changed my heart and God led me in a direction of ASL (American Sign Language). So that’s what I’m in school for. I’m a junior here taking classes. Just transferred this semester and still have a year to go, but I’m in the interpreting program here.”
Clemson is the only four-year school in South Carolina that offers the ASL program as world language credit. The program is designed for students interested in careers that would require them to communicate with sign language users, such as teaching, nursing or interpreting. According to the Modern Language Association, American Sign Language is the country’s fastest-growing language, and in addition to his wife, no one has been more supportive of Morris’s desire to try out for the football team than the deaf community in the Clemson area.
“Their support, they’re behind me 100 percent,” Morris said. “And a lot of them are huge Clemson fans.”
Morris is hoping to join the likes of Joe Thomas Sr. and Tim “Pops” Frisby as some of the oldest athletes to play college football. Thomas made history this past season when, as a 55-year-old, he made his collegiate debut at South Carolina State University with a 3-yard carry on Senior Day. Frisby, a military veteran, played for South Carolina in 2005 when he was 40.
Tanya said her husband, who was also a track standout in high school, has always been a perfectionist and that she watched him train for weeks while he preparing for Monday’s tryout.
“I just wanted him to try it,” Tanya said, beaming. “If they can see past his age and see what he does, I know he can do it. You can’t lose by trying.”
And there’s one other potential perk, too.
“I tell my wife, I say, ‘What if I was a walk-on last year and made the team and was able to get a national championship?’ ” Morris laughed. “It would be amazing. It’s an opportunity that was given, and just being able to make it would be a dream come true.”