Mitch Morse thought it was just another jammed finger.
Morse, a senior left tackle for Missouri’s football team, is used to jammed fingers. It’s a hazard of the trade.
When Morse’s finger got crunched during the first quarter of a soggy Saturday night game in College Station, Texas, two weeks ago, he had trainers tape his battered left index finger to his middle finger and soldiered on.
It wasn’t until X-rays were taken of Morse’s finger after the Tigers’ 34-27 win at Texas A&M that he learned the finger was broken.
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Morse’s finger was surgically repaired the next day and he returned to practice that Tuesday before playing six days after the procedure in a 29-21 win against the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tenn.
“When he was sitting in that room, he told me he was going to play at Tennessee,” said Morse’s father, Kevin, who made the 100-mile drive from the family’s home in Austin, Texas, to Kyle Field. “So, I knew he was going to play. We’re sitting there that night at A&M and he said, ‘I’m playing,’ and that was that.”
That kind of toughness is no surprise to Morse’s teammates.
“Mitch Morse is a beast,” junior defensive end Shane Ray said. “Not because he’s my teammate or anything, but I think he’s a little bit underrated.”
During summer workouts, Morse benched more than 500 pounds and teammates laud his technical skills.
“His kick slide is one of his best things,” said junior right guard Connor McGovern, who started next to Morse in all 14 games last season. “It’s incredible. His kick is so fast and so good.”
As good as his footwork is, it’s definitely Morse’s raw strength that draws the most raves.
“Mitch is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “If he gets into your chest, you’re done.”
Ray agreed, “When he explodes his hands out on you, that force just kind of shocks your body. You’re like, ‘Whoa.’ You’ve got to be serious if you’re going to go in there and try to get with Mitch on that kind of level.”
It seems odd now, but Morse didn’t even play tackle football until his freshman year in high school at Austin’s St. Michael’s Academy.
Before that, he fancied himself a basketball player and only participated in flag football, primarily playing wide receiver.
Morse said his dad didn’t want him to play tackle football.
“We just didn’t think about it,” Kevin Morse said. “I had grown up in the California area, and we played flag football until high school out there. He wasn’t expressing an overwhelming desire to play tackle football, so we just didn’t push it. We felt like he might reject it if we pushed it, but, once he got out there and started hitting people, it ended up he kind of liked it. We weren’t opposed to it; it just wasn’t on the agenda.”
Mitch Morse remained at receiver as a freshman with the junior varsity squad.
He had promised St. Michael’s coach Ed McCabe he would play again as a sophomore, but was having second thoughts as his sophomore season approached.
Enjoying playing with his AAU traveling team too much, Mitch Morse considered sticking with basketball only.
“Mitch was a great shooter, so don’t play H-O-R-S-E with him,” Kevin Morse joked.
Nonetheless, Morse’s parents made him follow through with his promise and he was penciled in as the junior varsity quarterback before approaching McCabe.
“Coach, what do I need to do to play on Friday nights?” Morse asked.
McCabe laughed and said, “I think we can find something for you on the offensive line.”
Kevin Morse and his wife, Catherine, were unaware their son had switched positions and was promoted to the varsity until the season’s first game.
“We show up for the first game and they’ve got Mitch in as the starting left tackle,” Kevin Morse said. “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘What is going on with this kid?’ But the rest is history. He never missed a game at left tackle after that.”
“It’s been the love of my life ever since,” Mitch Morse said.
Once at Missouri, Morse, who packed on 100 pounds in high school and has added another 25 in college, circulated through different positions on the offensive line as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and started 2012 at center before shifting to right tackle due to injury.
He was voted the Tigers’ most improved lineman that year and locked down the right tackle position as a junior, starting all 14 games there opposite left tackle Justin Britt.
Morse then replaced Britt, a second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, this season. He also was named captain before the season by his teammates.
“In his mind, it’s like the greatest honor you can ever get — for you peers to ask you to lead them,” Kevin said. “He’s taken that super-seriously.”
Arkansas at No. 17 Missouri
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Columbia
TV: CBS (Ch. 5)