Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

— Leonard Cohen, “Anthem,” 1992


Every quarterback has cracks. There are no perfect passers.

Some still ring the bell.

(Or in this case, sound the siren.)

For two quarters inside Husky Stadium, the siren didn’t sound. It was Nov. 28, 2020, and the Utah Utes entered the locker room with a 21-0 lead. The first half was marred by a pair of Dylan Morris interceptions, the first two picks of the redshirt freshman quarterback’s college career. He went 10 for 18 for 77 yards and the aforementioned interceptions, admitting last week that he “got fooled into some things.” And after narrowing the gap to 21-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Morris momentarily cracked again, woefully underthrowing a deep ball intended for wide-open Washington wide receiver Ty Jones that was intercepted by Utah safety Vonte Davis instead. 

With 4:31 left, Washington got the ball back at its 12-yard line, 88 yards from a go-ahead score.

At which point, Morris could have succumbed to the cracks.

Instead, he rang the bell.

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More literally, the Puyallup product completed six of his next nine passes in a 12-play, 88-yard march — to the surprise of no one he knows.

“When he started leading that drive I said, ‘Oh, here he goes. This is who I know,’” said Lavelle Durant, Morris’ personal quarterbacks coach since the fourth grade. “That 100%, in my mind, solidified, ‘OK, he’s definitely made for the big lights.’

“He was showing that persistence and toughness, where not a lot of guys are rooting for him right now. No one’s really watching (in the stadium). There’s nothing for him to feed off of. That drive showed, ‘I’ll go out here and figure out how to get this done and show these guys that, hey, I am the next guy up.’”

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With 44 seconds left, “D-Mo” delivered. More specifically, he took a shotgun snap on first-and-10, looked right, found nothing, then rolled back left, before opening his hips and hitting Cade Otton for the comeback-completing 16-yard score. While the siren sounded and Otton celebrated, Morris shouted back to his sideline — pointing repeatedly at the metaphorical ice water coursing through his veins.

He was cracked, but not broken.

When he struggles, he shines.

“If I was to go to a bar and get in a bar fight, I’m taking him with me, because I know he’s going to fight until the end,” said Rob Mason, Morris’ youth football coach. “He doesn’t let things like that faze him. I watched that game with UW where he threw those interceptions (in a 24-21 UW win), and I just knew that it wasn’t going to stop him. He’s just one of those special guys.”

Added Durant: “I truly think that Utah game defined who he is. That’s a guy that’s going to go to war for you and ride for you until the last whistle’s blown. He did a hell of a job right there.”

· · ·

Morris’ first pass at Graham-Kapowsin High School was — you guessed it — intercepted.

First comes the crack.

Then, the bounce-back.

“He just bounces back. It doesn’t faze him,” Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle said with a disbelieving laugh. “He’s got something in him where he believes in himself, but he doesn’t need to tell everybody that he believes in himself. You know that he does, just by the way that he plays and carries himself. One play is not going to affect him. Two plays are not going to affect him, because he knows he can make that throw and make a difference.”

In four seasons under center, Dylan made all the difference, leading the Eagles to a 40-7 record with 9,815 passing yards and 99 touchdowns. He earned a four-star ranking from 247Sports, an invitation to the Elite 11 Finals and scholarship offers from Washington, Notre Dame, Cal and Oregon State as well.

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But he didn’t do it by demanding anything.

He’s got something in him where he believes in himself, but he doesn’t need to tell everybody that he believes in himself.

“When UW came in to watch him it was Chris Petersen and their old offensive coordinator (Jonathan Smith), and he didn’t have an offer yet. It was his freshman year, the playoff (38-13 win) against Mount Si,” Kurle recalled. “It was raining, and we’re running down the field and making plays, running the ball on them. I say, ‘Do you want to start throwing?’ He says, ‘No, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing. We’re winning the football game.’

“That’s when I knew he was going to be that guy. Because he didn’t care. They were there, and he really wanted to go to UW. It’s his dream school. They hadn’t offered him yet. But he didn’t say, ‘Coach, can we throw a little bit more?’ That was the (moment) where I knew he was going to be an incredible quarterback.”

The Huskies offered Morris following that freshman season. They saw what Kurle saw.

Some saw it sooner.

“We even knew back in third grade,” said Mason, who coached Morris on numerous teams from fifth through eighth grade. “Because he was a baseball player, too. He would just sling the rock around as a little guy out there, and he just had this natural release, spinning the ball. He was just an athlete. When I got him in fifth grade he had already played the QB position prior, and he was locked in at that point.

“As a youth coach, it was like having a unicorn, man.”

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But here’s the thing about unicorns:

When they hit you, it hurts.

“He’s tough as nails,” Mason continued. “He played safety for us one year and went both ways, and we would have to be careful, because we didn’t want to get him hurt. But it was always, ‘Hey coach, can I go in at safety?’ And here’s the thing: it was not just to go in, but this was strong safety. He wanted to come down and just split guys in half, I kid you not.”

Quarterback Dylan Morris showed resiliency during his first season as a starter. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

If I was to go to a bar and get in a bar fight, I’m taking him with me, because I know he’s going to fight until the end.

Whether at safety, or under center, Morris’ competitiveness came out.

Just ask Jacob Eason.

“Jacob Eason’s senior year (at Lake Stevens High School) I was locked in training with him the whole year. We were literally training throughout the season,” Durant explained. “I remember going into the playoffs to play Graham-Kapowsin. I remember Dylan hitting me up and saying, ‘Hey, I’m getting your boy this week.’ And Dylan was a freshman.

“Of course Lake Stevens came up with the (49-14) W and their running back went crazy (rushing for 290 yards and three touchdowns), but Dylan had a great game. Dylan called me and goes, ‘I wish Eason had one more year to run that back, because I’d get him next year. I was killing those guys.’ He just had that (mentality of), ‘Oh, this is the big guy everybody’s watching? I’m going to show you guys.’”

When he was a freshman at Graham-Kapowsin in 2015, Morris beat out two older options to win the starting job.

When he was a redshirt freshman at Washington in 2020, Morris beat out two older options to win the starting job.

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And in four starts last fall, he completed 60.9% of his passes and threw for 897 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions — leading the Huskies to a 3-1 record and a Pac-12 North crown.

But then again, every quarterback has cracks. There are no perfect passers.

So this offseason, unsurprisingly, Morris went to work.

“I don’t know where this narrative came from, but it was created, so he really wanted to attack it,” Durant said. “I was saying, ‘Dylan, this is not right. You’re great at this.’ But we focused so much on the deep ball, because there was such a narrative that he couldn’t complete the deep ball.”

Added Kurle: “I know everybody doubted his deep ball last season. Well, that’s what he’s throwing well right now. In spring ball, he went and worked on it. If he has a weakness, he’ll go after it and get better at it. People don’t understand, he has an incredible arm. He throws it past 70 yards in the air.”

For an arguably undersized 6-foot, 200-pound passer, Morris’ arm strength is exceptional.

But his greatest gift may be the ability to take a beating, stand up and ring the bell.

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“He’s not easily rattled,” said UW offensive coordinator John Donovan, when asked what separates his second-year starter. “He’s got some unique qualities as far as being able to handle the bad as well as handle the good and just move on to the next play.”

Added Otton: “I would compare him a little bit to Jake Browning, honestly. He’s got a really good demeanor. You see Jake doing really well in the NFL with the Vikings and (you hear) comments from the coach saying that guys just really trust him and want to follow him. I see that from D-Mo, too.”

With 4:31 left against Utah, the Husky offense followed Morris 88 yards. He had three interceptions in the game, and three starts to his name.

He was cracked, but not broken.

When he struggles, he shines.

“My favorite moment since I’ve known Dylan was that Utah game, because he showed a lot,” Durant said. “Being Seattle natives and reading the paper and reading online, let’s just be honest: not everybody was on his side. So trying to gain respect from those who weren’t too familiar with Dylan, and then having no energy in the stadium, and then only having a short time to prep for the season, I think he showed a lot. He has a lot of game.

“And he has so much more. I guarantee, this season, he has so much more.”


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