LINCOLN — Stanley Morgan donned his full football uniform last week for the first time in months. What he felt was progress.
“It’s just learning how to breathe in these pads again,” the wide receiver said with a grin. “They’re a little tight.”
Tangible improvement can be tough to confirm during spring practices, when optimism runs high and everyone has potential. But Morgan’s development looks obvious — the junior-to-be has added a few pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame and embraced his sudden status as one of Nebraska’s few proven wideouts.
The idea that he would be a go-to pass-catcher hit Morgan in the offseason like a quick slant pass. He caught 33 balls for 453 yards and two touchdowns last year, and senior De’Mornay Pierson-El (20 catches, 254 yards) is the only other receiver coming back with any substantial game experience.
It was a realization that has motivated the New Orleans native to work on himself in new and productive ways.
“I never really was a weight-room kind of guy,” Morgan said. “But I take it real serious now.”
One weightlifting routine Nebraska has is known simply as “55” and tasks players with doing sets of increasing reps from one to 10 (totaling 55) with little rest in between. Within that workout, Morgan said, his squat total has reached 315 pounds while his bench press is at 245 and power clean is up to 295. Those are numbers significantly better than last spring.
Don’t tell anyone, Nebraska wideouts coach Keith Williams said with a smile, but Morgan has gotten a step faster, too. It’s not just physical ability — that comes from being more confident and well-versed in his role in the offense.
“He’s dialed in. It seems like he’s got his mind right,” Williams said. “He’s a guy who’s working hard. He’s taking another step in terms of paying attention to the details. Natural growth is taking place.
“He’s working as hard as anybody. He’s working as hard as somebody that’s only been here a week. He doesn’t relax. He’s naturally that way. He’s a great leader by example.”
That leadership hasn’t come by coincidence, Morgan said, and he couldn’t elude the responsibility even if he wanted to. Not with 14 other receivers (not counting Pierson-El) regularly asking him questions. What happens on this play? What’s the best way to approach that route?
He can give answers because he’s been through the same process. He’s also shown consistency after catching at least one pass in every game last year, and he could end up challenging for top-five all-time marks in NU history in catches and receiving yards.
“I wasn’t really vocal last year and all that,” Morgan said. “It’s really cool to get out there and really help people and teach them how to do outs and stuff. I can’t take a day off. With guys behind me and looking up to me, I can’t take a day off.”
Coach Mike Riley singled out No. 8 during his spring press conference as a “tough competitor” and playmaker. Those traits have been evident through five spring practices. Morgan has demonstrated a reliability with all of Nebraska’s quarterbacks and a confidence that wasn’t so obvious last season.
“Stanley and De’Mornay both look at the top of their game to me,” Riley said. “Stanley really, really looks good and confident. He’s like the veteran player out here.”