Taylor Barton saw the future.
Though, to be fair, so did everyone watching ROOT Sports on Sept. 19, 2013 — when the Graham-Kapowsin Eagles topped Federal Way, 39-21. With 2:27 left in the third quarter, the camera cut to a scrawny seventh-grade ball boy spinning a pigskin on his finger.
Standing on the home sideline, facing the field, he wore a white jersey with his last name — MORRIS — stretched across the shoulders.
“That is seventh-grade quarterback Dylan Morris,” said Barton, a former UW quarterback on color commentary that night. “He is the future of this Graham-Kapowsin program.”
Turns out, he was the future of the University of Washington as well.
And for Barton — who began training UW’s redshirt freshman starter all the way back in fifth grade — that was much more than an educated guess.
“I don’t go around saying that about very many kids at all. So when I do, I’m very serious about it,” Barton told The Times on Wednesday. “I’ve done this long enough where you just see attributes in somebody. You can see footwork. You can see arm strength. You can see coachability. You see their demeanor.
“It wasn’t specifically one thing. Just a bunch of things added up that, when put together, made sense. With him, it was very apparent — in a good way.”
And it didn’t take long for the future to arrive. Morris started as a true freshman on Graham-Kapowsin’s varsity team, and ultimately threw for 9,815 yards and 99 touchdowns in four sparkling seasons — leading the Eagles to a 40-7 record along the way.
At 6-foot and 195 pounds, the Puyallup product’s success didn’t stem from his physical traits. His arm strength, of course, was never in question.
But Washington, Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal and Oregon State also became enamored with everything else.
“When it’s a kid that likes being out there — that likes the good that can come with it — but doesn’t love it, when you face difficult times it’s a lot easier to walk away, to make excuses,” said Barton, a UW quarterback in 2001 and 2002 who since founded the Alliance QB Academy. “Dylan is the opposite of that. I think he would have eaten the football if it had enough nutrients.”
In other words, Dylan Morris has always been hungry. He’s always been willing to work. On Wednesday, UW redshirt sophomore tight end Jack Westover said Morris “prepares like no other. Whenever I come to the stadium, he’s always here, just working.”
It’s the work that won him Washington’s four-pronged quarterback competition — over graduate student Kevin Thomson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Ethan Garbers.
And it’s the work that won over his teammates, too.
“Anywhere I’ve ever seen Dylan go and anyone I’ve ever seen him play for — and I saw him play on youth teams, high school teams, now college — his teammates love him. His coaches love him,” Barton said. “And it’s genuine. He’s a very easy kid to like and root for. I’ve seen it at every level and I see it at UW. And if you went and talk to guys on the team, coaches, you’d hear the same thing.
“And that is so important, because when the guys on the team buy into you like that they’re going to block harder, run faster for you. They’re going to sacrifice more for you, and that’s a pretty incredible thing.”
Added UW senior running back Kamari Pleasant: “He plays with great eyes. The way he reads defenses, the way he knows the playbook … his pre-snap (reads) are things that show me how savvy he is and how smart of a player he is.”
Those smarts were on display in Washington’s 27-21 win over Oregon State, when Morris completed 14 of 24 passes for 141 yards and scored his first career touchdown on a quarterback sneak. Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake said Monday that “I was just extremely pleased with the play of our starting quarterback in his first ever college football game.”
Still, some Washington football fans were understandably underwhelmed. After all, the Huskies failed to find the end zone through the air, and Morris managed just 5.9 yards per pass attempt.
As Lake always emphasizes, Morris didn’t make mistakes.
And against Arizona on Saturday, he’ll hopefully be allowed to make a few more plays.
“I think for UW fans, they really haven’t scratched the surface of what they’ll be able to see and he’s able to do,” Barton said. “The coaches are smart. When you have a young kid, you want to give him some easier reads — some easier completions. You want to establish a run game. So I think strategically, they called a great game last week. But as he gets more reps and experience, I think you’re going to see them give him the green light more and more.
“I can tell you this: if they’re in a situation where they need to throw the ball to win and throw it a lot, and it’s downfield throws, quick throws, across-the-field throws, he’s capable of making every throw and he’s capable of leading a team through the air.”
And against the Pac-12’s best, Morris will have to prove it. He’ll have to deliver difficult throws in key moments, when the margin for error is microscopic. He’ll have to translate all of the work into wins.
He’ll have to prove, once again, that the future has arrived.
“He’s more athletic than people think and give him credit for, and I think he loves that,” Barton said. “(It’s like), ‘Hey, underestimate me. That’s fine.’ I think he’s faced a lot of that his entire life and career. People haven’t thought he was big enough or athletic enough or this or that, and all he’s done is continue to just ball at every level and prove people wrong — and more so, prove himself right.”