Friends Say Goodbye To Coach Morris

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Payson High School football assistant coach Jack Morris died early Monday morning from a stroke suffered days earlier.

He was 34 years old.

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Jack Morris (1971-2004)

At the time of his untimely death in Phoenix Good Samaritan Hospital, Jack was surrounded by family.

In days to come, he'll be fondly remembered in many different ways.

He was a loving husband to his beautiful wife, Dawn.

He was the doting, caring father to daughters Courtney and Chancee.

He was a treasured friend of many.

He was a dedicated football coach who spent countless hours in the interest of youth.

Among my most cherished memories of Jack will be those of a 17-year-old Longhorn football player who, along with a few of his teammates, called themselves "The Bruise Brothers." I had the honor of coaching the group.

In 1986, the Brothers formed the offensive and defensive lines that paved the way for the Longhorns to reach the state championship game.

A 7-0 loss to the Snowflake Lobos in the championship game did little to tarnish the fond memories of that state run.

Jack and his fellow Bruise Brothers were a tight-knit group that relished the idea of being "only" linemen.

They might best be described as roll-up-your-sleeve, lunch pail type workers who expected very little fan fare. They chided one another that they drove pickup trucks, not sports cars, would never be elected homecoming royalty and the cheer line wouldn't consider dating them. At a time when many kids were listening to rock, they tuned their radios to country music stations.

In the aura they helped create, some of the Bruise Brothers were more than a little mischievous, including Jack. They didn't break any laws or do anything cruel, but they often stretched limits and tested boundaries.

Longhorns boys basketball coach Mike Loutzenheiser, a wide receiver/defensive back on the 1986 team, loves to tell the story of Jack, the Brothers and several others showing up late for a holiday practice.

When the players finally appeared almost two hours late, they arrived with a story that they had been exploring some caves. One of the teens, who supposedly was trying to pass through a narrow passage, got lodged and couldn't free himself, they said.

It took more than two hours of hand digging to free the player, the story went.

The athlete who was supposed to have been wedged in the rocks went so far as to praise his teammates for their loyalty in remaining on the scene to help free him.

I don't know to this day if coaches Terry Nodlinski or Dan Reid believed the tale. But I swallowed it much like a large-mouth lunker chasing a Westy Worm.

More than 10 years after the incident, Jack fessed up.

We were both coaching the Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade football team and riding a school bus to Show Low when he turned to me and unexpectedly said, "no player was caught that day, we were just messing around and lost track of time."

Then he let loose with a belly laugh that could be heard up and down the aisle of the bus.

I confess, I too might have contributed a bit to the Bruise Brothers' reputation of living a bit on the edge.

Following the season, I took the five senior members of the Brothers to Las Vegas. We told the administration we were going there on a "recruiting trip" to the University of Nevada where a friend coached.

I rented a car, we piled in and sped across the Arizona desert to our Las Vegas destination. There, we rented a single hotel room on the strip and prepared ourselves for two glorious days of life in the city with no clocks.

We lived up to our "recruiting trip" promises. My coaching friend, former Notre Dame All-American and NFL All-Pro offensive tackle George Kunz, escorted us on a tour of the campus of UNLV. We saw the football field.

Those early years of playing and coaching football must have created an itch Jack had to scratch.

He went on to be the offensive and defensive line coach at Payson High and played a huge role in the Longhorns run to the 1998 state championship.

As much as he loved football and being around kids, he was not a "yes" man. A couple of seasons ago, he decided to step away from coaching because some things were going on in the program that went against his convictions.

I know that year away from football was tough on Jack. He missed the camaraderie of the sport that had been so much a part of him since his days as a Bruise Brother.

The large group of friends that turned out over the weekend at Good Samaritan was a testament to the high esteem Jack was held.

Among those at the hospital was Jack's best friend and former Bruise Brother Mark Velasco. He drove down twice from his home in Flagstaff to be with Jack and his family.

The crowds outside Jack's door and in the waiting room grew so large that security guards were constantly trying to disperse the groups.

Everyone at the hospital had their own personal way of grieving for the good friend that we knew from doctor's reports would not soon be with us.

Loutzenheiser and I said our goodbyes to Jack Sunday afternoon. It was an very emotional time for both of us.

As I was leaving Jack's small, cramped hospital room in ICU, his wife stopped me and said, "you know he loved you very much."

I loved him, too.

Jack, we're going to miss you. Thanks for the privilege of being a part of your life.

A fund has been set up at the Payson Branch of Wells Fargo Bank to help the Morris family with medical and funeral expenses. Donations can be dropped off with any bank teller.

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