MINNEAPOLIS - Tanner Morgan is going to remember 2020 for several reasons. He’s been on top of the world after the University of Minnesota football team beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl, and he’s dealt with the uncertainty of the college football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s also faced the adversity of a health scare within his own household. Morgan’s father, Ted Morgan, had to have surgery in late May to remove a brain tumor. He dealt with some adversity in late July and is hoping for good news in an MRI scheduled for next week.
The first people Tanner Morgan got in contact with when his father was out of surgery? Gophers’ coach P.J. Fleck, and co-offensive coordinator Mark Sanford Jr.
“I’ll tell you what, you want to talk about a coaching staff that is invested in their players’ overall mental health -- Coach Fleck, Coach Sanford, coaches on the staff went above and beyond for my family. Talking to my dad, calling me, they were the first people I called when my dad got out of surgery,” Morgan said Monday via Zoom. “They were there the whole time throughout the process and still are. I’m genuinely grateful for that because our coaches really do care about us as people, not just as players and what we do on the field. They care about the struggles that we have off the field and they find ways to teach us amazing things through life.”
The Morgan family is deeply rooted in its faith, and Tanner is going to let those higher powers ultimately determine what happens with Ted. Tanner says the health scare, like many adversities can do, has brought his family closer.
“As a family, obviously there was a lot of stuff going on but it was a great opportunity to testify and grow in faith with trials that go on. To really just trust in God that His plan is amazing, whether it may be good or bad things that happen to you in this world, and we may have all the questions in the world for God, to Jesus and all those different things,” Tanner said. “All we know is that He’s here for us, the Holy Spirit is with us and personally seeing my dad’s growth in his faith is just amazing. I know where he’s going to spend the rest of his life, where he’s going to spend his eternal life, with Jesus in heaven. That means more than anything and that’s what’s really important. It’s been an opportunity for us to grow closer as a family for sure.”
Tanner Morgan will also likely never forget last Tuesday, Aug. 11. Gophers players were in their locker room getting ready for a fall camp walk-through, still not yet knowing the fate of their college season.
Players started getting texts that the Big Ten had postponed fall sports. They didn’t know it officially yet, but their football season was over. The team later had a meeting with Athletic Director Mark Coyle. The earliest they would play a season is the spring of 2021, after an 11-2 season, the program’s best in 115 years.
Morgan doesn’t know anything other than football on Saturdays. He’s been playing since he was 6 years old. His 2019 season that featured more than 3,200 yards passing, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions had captured the attention of NFL scouts, and odds-makers putting him in early contention for the Heisman Trophy. But for the immediate future, putting on the Gophers uniform and running out the TCF Bank Stadium tunnel on Saturdays is on hold.
“Obviously I was a little sad because I wanted to play football. It’s what I love to do,” Morgan said.
At the same time, the decision to postpone the fall season was made with player health and safety at the forefront of a global health pandemic. It’s a decision Morgan ultimately says is the right one, even if it’s not the popular one.
“At the end of the day, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love to play football. The Big Ten did what they thought was best for player health and safety. I commend them for being the conference that actually put player health and safety first,” Morgan said.
A postpone season doesn’t mean Gophers players are being sent home. Just the opposite, in fact. They’re doing everything they can to stay ready for when it is time to play football again.
They practiced Monday, six days after their fall season was called off.
“There’s been a lot of things that are questions in our world with COVID and everything going on, but today we had an opportunity to go out, throw the ball around a little bit in individual and do some walk-through periods against our defense for the first time so it was awesome,” Morgan said. “It was an elite opportunity for us, and we had a lot of fun just doing it. We’re going to get the most we can out of now.”