Former Old Dominion University offensive lineman, D.J. Morrell, played in the third annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl last Saturday in Carson, Calif. Morrell played right guard for the National Team, coached by NFL legend, Dick Vermeil. The National Team defeated the American Team 31-17. Morrell talked about his experiences throughout the week leading up to the game on Saturday.
Back Story on Morrell: Morrell was a two-year starter at Old Dominion after transferring to ODU from Dean Junior College. He started all 13 games for the Monarchs’ CAA Championship team in 2012 at right guard, before sliding out to right tackle for the majority of the 2013 season, starting 10 games at right tackle and two at right guard. He moved back inside to play guard against Pittsburgh and went toe-to-toe against Panthers All-American defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, holding him to just two tackles on the day.
Getting to California
Morrell became the first Monarch to participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
“I got an email from the NFLPA Bowl game committee. They emailed me and said they really wanted me out there,” Morrell said. “I talked to a few scouts and they said to go for it. They said it would give me more exposure and I was really excited to go out there and compete and enjoy the experience.”
Morrell’s week started on Monday, Jan. 13 when he arrived in Carson, California. Monday was check in day, as the players picked up their gear and had initial meetings with scouts and their coaches.
“We got there on Monday and checked in with our team and grabbed all of our gear. We then checked in with the scouts and filled out some questionnaire. The scouts then checked our wing span and hand size,” Morrell added. “After that, we had to go up on the stage in front of all the scouts (approximately 140 scouts) with just our compression shorts on and walk around and do our height and weight. That in it self was different but it was one of those things. I got up there, felt good and comfortable."
Tuesday was the first official day of practice for the National Team.
“We practiced in the morning so we got up early and had breakfast. We got to the stadium for the first practice and met all of the guys for the first time. The cool thing was to meet the guys from all the different schools, all over the country. From SEC to ACC Schools, it was just cool to see all the guys.”
“We had meetings on Monday to install the offense. At ODU it was more of a spread style and here we ran more of a pro-style offense, running the ball and play-action pass. It was different to learn a new offense. The coaches helped us out, I took my time with it and learned everything. I took mental reps when I wasn’t in.”
Meeting the Coaches
“The scouts told us the week of practice was the biggest evaluation, watching us do drills, one-on-ones, just seeing how you are as a person. They watched us like a hawk the whole week. I just wanted to do the best I could and soak it all in and give it all I had.”
One of the treats in playing in the All-Star Game was the coaching staff on both sides. The American side was coached by former Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals Head Coach, Dennis Green, while his coaching staff had the likes of former NFL players, Daunte Culpepper, Andre Reed and Darrell Green.
Morrell and the National Team was coached by 15-year NFL head coach and 1999 Super Bowl winner with the St. Louis Rams, Dick Vermeil. Vermeil was helped by Priest Holmes, Cairl Hairston and Will Shields (OL), and also 31-year NFL coaching veteran, Jim Hanifan. Both Shields and Hanifan worked with the offensive line.
Morrell and his teammates developed a quick respect for Vermeil and the coaching staff.
“I first met Coach Vermeil on Monday in our first team meeting. He was a great guy. When he talked, he gained my respect right away. Just to see these coaches, guys like Priest Holmes and Will Shields, working with them and seeing their techniques was just really cool, to sit down and watch and learn what they were doing in the NFL.”
Getting to Know the Team
In an All-Star game setting, the offensive line is one of the toughest and most important positions as a new group of linemen come together and get just one week to prepare.
“It was different because you’re not sure what to expect with different guys, but we all made it work. We just tried to help each other out,” Morrell said. You’re not sure what to expect. There wasn’t much time spent technique wise, just trying to make the best of it and work together as a unit.
Once the practices were over, the scouts mingled with the players to talk to them even more.
“There were scouts on the field after practice for more interviews. After lunch, we had team meetings. We had dinner and then more scout interviews. They had us all in a big tent, and all the scouts came up to interview us and talk to us. The scouts that came to see us this year during the year, were our region scouts, so the west coast scouts were there, but some scouts knew me so that was cool, but it was nice to talk to them and get the exposure.”
Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty similar, with practice in the morning, meetings and then more interviews with the scouts.
“It felt like I was back in fall camp, with everything scheduled for us. We had to be somewhere at a certain time. I went out there with the mindset of it being a business trip, but also being in California I wanted to enjoy it.”
Getting Ready for Game Day
“We got up for breakfast and then went over to the stadium for my normal game routine. It was cool, all the guys were exchanging helmet stickers with everyone. I Went with my normal pregame routine and came back in the locker room and got some words of advice from Coach Vermeil. He told us to have fun and all that kind of stuff.”
“The game went well. We won. We were rotating in and out on the offensive line so everyone could get playing time, but it was good. I Just had a blast, a great time and wanted to everything together and have fun with it all."
After playing right tackle most of the season, Morrell played right guard in the game. Guard is the position that the scouts predict him to play at the next level.
“I felt comfortable at guard, the coaches were pleased with everything I did. I felt like a good fit there at guard.”
Following the game, Morrell was headed back east to Connecticut to start training for ODU’s upcoming Pro Day. He enjoyed his experience in California and is now ready to begin the rest of his preparation to become a professional football player.
“It was a great experience meeting all the scouts, coaches and a great opportunity,” Morrell said. “I feel really blessed to have had it. It’s all happening so fast, I just feel blessed to have had the opportunity to play with all these guys and have a good time.”