Always a Buckeye

Feb. 15, 2011

Big Ten Black History Month Website

By Larry Watts

When he first started to wrestle, Corey Morrison says he and his mother had a bit of a conflict.

“I kept telling her wrestling required special shoes and she insisted that the wrestlers just wore socks,’’ he says. “Now I’ve got like 90 pairs of wrestling shoes.’’

Growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Morrison’s dream was always to play football. He thought that would be his ticket to Ohio State.

“When you’re born in the Cleveland area, you’re a Browns fan first and a Buckeye second,’’ he says. “I didn’t realize until I got to Ohio State that our state is actually divided in half. Columbus is right on that centerline. Above that you cheer for the Browns, below you cheer for the Bengals.

“Growing up, everything in my room was either Browns or Ohio State. Everything from bed sheets to lamps and clocks were all Browns. All the accessories were Buckeyes. On the wall, I had a Bernie Kosar jersey, a Mark Price jersey and an Ohio State jersey.’’

At Shaker Heights High School, Morrison played both football and wrestled. He went to several camps, including at Ohio State, hoping to draw interest for football.

“My dream was to come to Ohio State, primarily for football,’’ says Morrison, who is now working at the Student-Athlete Support Services Office at Ohio State while completing dual master’s degrees in education and administration. “I wrestled heavyweight at 190 and I always thought I had good size for a linebacker. But that never panned out and I was ready to go to school for school’s sake with no sports.’’

But Morrison’s plans took a different path when former Buckeye assistant coach Mitch Clark called him the last week of April 2005. Clark wanted to know if Morrison, a two-time state qualifier in wrestling, wanted to join the Buckeyes as a walk-on.

“He (Clark) told me they had a senior who was thinking about red-shirting and they didn’t have much depth on the roster at 197,’’ Morrison says. “He thought I had the kind of talent they could develop.

“I talked to my high school wrestling coach who had wrestled against Clark in the 1990s. He told me since I was going to Ohio State anyway and I loved the sport, I should give it a try. I took a trip down there, toured the facilities and some buildings and they explained all the ins and outs to me. It was just an awesome trip.’’

True to their word, the Ohio State coaching staff, led by veteran coach Russ Hellickson, offered the opportunity for Morrison to grab a spot in the lineup at 197 as a freshman. The only trouble was Morrison was a little behind the curve as a late commitment.

“The opportunity was there and that was all I could ask for,’’ he says. “There were holes in the lineup and if someone gets hurt, you win a wrestle-off and you’re a starter.’’

Morrison wound up starting a majority of the team’s matches and posted a 7-18 record in his first season. Although he did receive the first of four nods as Academic All-Big Ten honors, he found himself out of the lineup for the Big Ten Championships.

“It was hard in a lot of ways,’’ he says. “At the time, I was trying to do a double major academically. I wasn’t ready for the size, speed and wrestling that is collegiate wrestling, but it was nice to travel and go to all those places even though you were getting beat up week in and week out.

“However, it wasn’t like I was the worst guy on the team and everyone else was an All-American. Several of us were going through the same problem, and the team as a whole seemed to be behind the curve.’’

By the end of the year, Hellickson had retired and Tom Ryan was brought in as the new Buckeye mat boss. Struggling with his weight all season, Morrison was in the process of moving up to heavyweight at the time and wasn’t sure about the coaching change.

“At first glance, it seemed like the new coaching staff was going to be all about recruiting the big names,’’ he says. “They appeared to be more about the front end qualify than developing talent. Coach Hellickson took a real interest in walk-ons and developing the talent. Now that I have been through the program, I know my first impression of coach Ryan was wrong.’’

When Ryan first met with Morrison, the new coach promised he would look into scholarship money after Morrison’s sophomore year. However, a lot depended on how the season developed.

Morrison was up to 214 pounds by the Big Ten Championships. He posted a 15-16 record and his biggest win was a pin of Cornell’s Zach Hammond. It paved a way to an 18-17 OSU victory over the ninth-ranked Cornell, Ryan’s first victory over a ranked opponent at Ohio State. Morrison earned his scholarship and was ready to come back for his junior year.

“I had a really good offseason,’’ he says. “I had been completely undersized at heavyweight and I managed to get up to 240 by lifting and maintaining a solid food regimen. I reported back and ran a 5:50 mile.’’

However, coming off a successful summer at the Olympic camp, 197-pounder J.D. Bergman decided he was going to move up to heavyweight. Morrison took a redshirt that season and posted a 9-4 record in open tournaments.

“Of course I was bitter at first after working so hard,’’ he says. “There had been no communication with me over the summer. But then you have to realize you have to do what’s best for the team and what’s best for some of these guys is to get national titles. J.D. winning the national title at heavyweight, rather than taking fourth at 197, would certainly be better for the team on the national scale.’’

Bergman took second at the NCAA Tournament, and Morrison hardly let the season go to waste. While the team practiced, he was in the wrestling room, working out with Olympic hopefuls as they passed through Columbus.

“I really enjoyed that,’’ he says. “It helped me work on my technique along with giving me a chance to get bigger.’’

Morrison was back in the lineup and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in his final two seasons. He was 19-12 as a redshirt senior and 20-15 as a graduate student. He went 1-2 in his first trip to the NCAA’s and was 0-2 in his second appearance.

“I thought I should have been vying for All-American (top eight) the first time,’’ he says. “But as I look back, I now have a full understanding of how hard it is to be an All-American and what an honor it is, so it’s an honor just to say you were in the tournament.’’

Morrison graduated with a degree in mathematics in the spring of 2009 and says he has had plenty of time to reflect on his wrestling career at Ohio State.

“I used to put little notes all around my room about goals I wanted to achieve on a daily basis and for the season,’’ he says. “The goals were all about hard work and pushing myself, something I learned through wrestling. You know you are going to get beat up and knocked around when a guy outweighs you by 40 pounds, but you still have to go out there. Wrestling makes you tough and it’s a matter of accepting how tough you have to be.

“I feel like I accomplished quite a bit athletically, coming from a walk-on with no state titles to where I ended up. I worked my way up through the ranks and the life lesson I learned is your pedigree and where you’re from doesn’t matter, it’s all about where you are going and how clearly defined it is.’’

Morrison clearly knows where he wants to be in life. His mother has been the academic director at a Job Corps school for 16-to 24-year-olds for over 35 years. His father is a retired physical education instructor, and his older brother is an English teacher in Charlotte, N.C. Morrison intends to continue the family tradition by becoming a mathematics teacher and eventually wants to become a school superintendent.

“I feel like I have so much to offer with teaching and academics,’’ he says. “I want to help figure out how to make our schools better and where we can get better teachers.’’

Right now he finds himself helping out other student-athletes at Ohio State as assistant tutor coordinator in his final year of graduate study.

“It’s interesting, being on the other side of the table with athletes,’’ he says. “It’s like pulling teeth sometimes because all they are thinking about is getting faster and stronger. My mind-set is to have them think of academics as their primary goal, and I am always searching for ways to relate to them. Every sport is different, and you’re dealing with different mentalities.’’

Working with other former student-athletes as tutors, Morrison says he still has to be on his competitive toes.

“We often have these little challenges where we try to prove each other wrong,’’ he says with a laugh. “You want to be the first to prove your point by Googling or looking it up on Wikipedia.’’