His progress, like any other walk-on’s, has come in stages. As a freshman, he practiced with the scout team, redshirting because he wasn’t yet ready to play in games. As a sophomore, he finally saw the field, but only when the scholarship players’ days were complete. Even as a junior, he earned a scholarship, but saw only limited action as a backup linebacker.
Now he’s a senior, and Mike Morrissey is making game-saving plays as Boston College’s starting strongside linebacker.
Credited with making the biggest play of the season last Saturday against Virginia, Morrissey is finally getting his due as a player who has played a significant role in keeping BC in the running for an ACC title.
“They had driven down the field,” Morrissey says, recalling the fourth-down play at the BC 12-yard line. “We were definitely nervous. But once our backs are to the goal line, we’re pretty tough down there. I saw [the quarterback] scramble and had an idea of where the line of scrimmage was.
“I had one goal: Keep him from getting past there. I hit him, and luckily, Luke [Kuechly] came in and finished him off after I made the initial hit. He came up just inches short, and those inches were all we needed.”
BC clearly needed a win against Virginia to stay in the Atlantic Division hunt. But Morrissey’s play was even more significant because it clinched the Eagles’ first road win of the waning season.
This year, Morrissey has been making a host of plays. The senior, who will have one more year of eligibility after this season because he redshirted, has been on the field for every game and started the last four.
“I don’t know if anything changed per se,” Morrissey says, talking about his increased role. “I guess it was just learning the defense, trying to get better and better each year, and looking for my opportunity to play. I’ve been behind a lot of great linebackers here at BC, and when you’re given a chance, you have to make the most of it. I knew I would get the opportunity one day, and once I got it, I would have to make the most of it.”
The misfortune of several BC linebackers granted Morrissey his opportunity. Everyone knows Mark Herzlich’s story and that he’s out for the season with cancer. But at the beginning of the season, Mike McLaughlin and Will Thompson were also sidelined. McLaughlin had a torn Achilles tendon and missed BC’s first four games; Thompson had a pinched nerve and did not return until the Notre Dame game.
With the ranks depleted, Morrissey was forced onto the field. From game one, he made the most of his time. He came off the bench against Northeastern and contributed with four tackles, including a team-high two for a loss. Before that game, Morrissey’s name had been virtually unknown to the many fans filling Alumni Stadium. Afterward, his name was being tossed around as one of BC’s defensive playmakers.
For Morrissey, the best part is not the increase in recognition and statistics – he recognizes that anyone on BC’s defense is capable of making plays – it is simply being on the field and playing the game he loves.
“[Being on the sidelines] was slightly frustrating,” Morrissey says. “You always want to play. But at the same time, I wasn’t frustrated in the sense that I was angry that I wasn’t playing. I knew that the people in front of me were fantastic linebackers.
“I was never exactly frustrated for not playing as much as I just missed the game. Every athlete wants to play as much as he can.”
His desire to play exhibits itself on the field. Even before hitting the gridiron, Morrissey’s excitement shows.
“[Before the game], I’m usually too excited already,” Morrissey says. “I usually have to calm myself down for the first couple hours, if it’s a later game. Noon games are always a lot of fun because I don’t have to calm myself down; you just get up, get ready, and you’re snapping the ball at noon. Game days are so exciting already, and it’s usually just keeping myself calm that is the trick.”
Morrissey is usually one of the first players to emerge from the tunnel before kickoff. His emotion shows as he runs on the field, pumping up everyone around him before kickoff. He plays with the same energy during the game, as evidenced by the amount of time he spends in opponents’ backfields. This season, Morrissey has one sack, two quarterback hurries, and six tackles for a loss.
The success of the other linebackers has helped Morrissey this year. Luke “Boy Wonder” Kuechly has attracted attention from opposing offenses due to 107 total tackles. The opponents’ focus on Kuechly allows Morrissey to slip under the radar somewhat, getting to the quarterback nearly as often as anyone else.
Morrissey cites his knowledge of the defense as his greatest attribute. “It makes it that much easier for me to make a play,” Morrissey says. “Knowing what they’re going to be doing allows us to play the way we want to play. It’s really a credit to coach [Bill] McGovern.”
Watching and playing alongside linebackers such as McLaughlin and Herzlich has allowed Morrissey to learn even more about the position. “I’d be crazy not to try to get at least a little bit of an advantage from those guys,” he says. “They’ve been there; they’ve done it; they know what they’re talking about. Their way is tried and true. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of that?”
Taking advantage of what his teammates and coaches have to offer has helped Morrissey improve over his four years at BC. And while Herzlich and Kuechly are expected to be two of the linebackers on the field next season, given Morrissey’s work this year, he hopes to stay in the starting lineup next season as he works toward a Masters degree.
“Whoever is the linebacker playing with Herzlich and Kuechly probably won’t get many tackles,” Morrissey says. “But it sure would be fun to be between the two.”