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Napa Valley Football/Track and Field: Morrison to catch and sprint for Whittier
Football/Track and Field

Napa Valley Football/Track and Field: Morrison to catch and sprint for Whittier

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Many high school athletes who compete in both football and track and field start out in the former and do the latter only to get better at the former.

But Seth Morrison started in track way back in the first grade. Football came eight years later. But he became as talented in football as in track over the years. That’s why he’ll continue to compete in both sports next school year when he attends Whitter College, a member of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference of NCAA Division III.

Morrison signed a letter of commitment to the Poets this spring. He had first reached out to Whittier football head coach Mike Neale in 2020, according to Heath Morrison, his father.

“This led to Seth building a relationship with Coach Neale throughout his junior and senior year,” he said. “In June of 2020, Seth was offered an official football roster spot at Whittier College by Coach Neale. He visited Whittier College in April 2021 and met Coach Neale in person; he couldn’t go any earlier because of COVID.

"Seth really liked what Whittier had to offer both academically and athletically. He liked the fact the school was small, located in Southern California — close to home — and carried his major.”

The COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed his college visit, but he didn't use it as an excuse to stop training.

“During COVID, we created a gym in the garage at home and Seth worked out almost daily,” Heath Morrison said.

Morrison plans to major in sociology. In a Facebook post created by Justin-Siena seniors, he is quoted saying “During high school, I learned that I am someone who is capable of leading. With that, I plan on following a career path to serve my community by becoming a first responder.”

Braves football head coach Brandon LaRocco said he has had other stars who didn’t starting playing until their freshman year.

“I think the common thread for most of our standout players is their work ethic, and Seth has one of the better work ethics of any kid I have coached,” he said. “Seth has grown a lot in his four years with us and I am really proud of the opportunity he has earned for himself.

“Seth will do well as a dual-sport athlete, even in college. He has really developed as a receiver these last two years and track has helped tremendously in his burst and acceleration off the line. He has great physical strength to get off press coverage, too.”

LaRocco thinks Morrison will be able to handle both sports at the next level.

“Seth knows how to grind and it doesn’t seem to wear him down,” the coach said. “He pushes himself as well as any player I have coached.”

Justin-Siena track and field head coach Tracy Martin has coached Morrison, a St. Apollinaris alumnus, since that first-grade season.

“Seth is a very talented, disciplined and determined young man,” she said. “Beyond being a fantastic athlete, his success stemmed from his great attitude, his strong work ethic, and his completely team-first approach.”

Morrison was the VVAL’s leading sprinter for the 2021 season in the 100 and 200, as well as the anchor leg of the VVAL-leading 4x100 boys relay team. He set personal records in the 100 meters (11.60 seconds) and 200 meters (23.51), and as the anchor in the 4x100 relay (45.05) behind Hunter Bledsoe, Miles Martin and Cole Chatagnier — and in the 4x400 relay at the Redwood Empire Showcase Meet, his season finale.

“It was an amazing accomplishment in what was the last meet of his high school career, in a very short season for the transitioning football athletes,” Martin noted.

Morrison said he didn’t think about competing at the next level until the end of his junior year, when fellow wide receiver Miles Williams signed with Division I Marshall University and several others signed with smaller schools.

“I was faced with a lot of challenges my junior season, but watching the seniors ahead of me go on to play at the next level did inspire me,” Morrison said. “They showed me how much work I had to put in to get a chance to play at the next level.”

Morrison finished his COVID-truncated senior football season with 12 catches for 198 yards and four touchdowns, helping the Braves go 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the VVAL. He then went right into track and finished undefeated in the VVAL in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay. His varsity boys and the girls went unbeaten in the league as teams.

“Track was definitely initially something to keep me in shape for football, but it got more serious as years went by,” he said.

Being the smallest school in the VVAL may leave the Braves at a disadvantage in football, but Morrison enjoyed that aspect.

“Being the smallest school does have its consequences, but I believe it has prepared me very well to play at the college level. Having a small number of players is great for building a family bond with both the players and coaches,” he said, adding that assistant coach Diano Pachote, a 2014 Justin-Siena graduate, is like an older brother to him now.

“I know that he will always be there for me with whatever I need, and has been a great mentor in helping me with figuring out my next four years,” Morrison said.

The Poets have been underdog-like under head coach Mike Neale, whose program has won just four games total and two in the SCIAC since he took over in 2016. Whittier did not have a season in 2020 due to the pandemic. Since the SCIAC was founded in 1915, the Poets have captured 26 conference titles. Their most recent SCIAC titles were back-to-back in 1997 and 1998.

Morrison met Neale when he made his first visit on April 17, the day after his final high school football game.

“When my family and I drove into Whittier, it reminded me of driving through Piedmont my sophomore year,” he said. “I got very lucky with my visit because I was one of the first class of 21 players to actually meet Coach Neale and have him show me around the athletic facilities. The athletic facilities were great, especially Memorial Stadium. The campus was absolutely amazing. From one of the residences, you could see all of Los Angeles.

“I think I will really enjoy Whittier for the next four years. Some freshmen and returning players from Whittier have reached out to me, so I am making some great connections before even stepping foot on campus.”

Morrison, whose cumulative GPA at Justin-Siena was 3.5, said it’s important for him to continue to be a scholar-athlete, to maintain that balance of school and the fitness/stress release aspect of athletics.

“Sports definitely helped me maintain my GPA,” he said. “Coach LaRocco always told us players that grades come before football, and I have always stood by that. If you aren't doing as good in the classroom as on the football field, then you are failing.

“It was very important to me that I would continue playing a sport during college. I definitely consider playing sports as the best stress reliever, and have always enjoyed working out whenever I get the chance.”

Getting accepted into such a prestigious school and its football and track programs after such a strange senior year makes Morrison glad he didn’t lose sight of his goals.

“It felt really good to be accepted into Whittier after the long, unexplainable year,” he said. “Whittier was also the first school to offer me and that was a very surreal experience, because I received the offer a couple months after the initial lockdown order.”

He said he couldn’t have done it without his parents, Heath and Kathleen, and sister Emmy, a 2018 Justin-Siena graduate who played basketball for the Braves.

“My parents have helped me so much through my athletic and educational career. They have always been my biggest supporters and provided me everything I needed to succeed, and become the best version of myself,” he said. “Emmy was very fun to watch play and compete against growing up. Growing up with another athlete in the house always seems to get a little competitive, and to me it was a challenge. I always wanted to be better than her at basketball, and that's where I started to develop my work ethic.

“I want to thank my family, friends, teammates, coaches and teachers for helping me become the person I am today. I would also like to congratulate Josh Tichy, Hudson Beers and Noah Young for also continuing to play sports and the next level.”

Justin-Siena quarterback Hudson Beers hits Seth Morrison with a 27-yard touchdown pass during Friday night's win at Sonoma Valley.

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.

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