By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
For the second consecutive season, Rootstown’s gridiron success has been directly linked to its powerful running game.
One year removed from career rushing leader Cody Coontz, who has since graduated, another standout has emerged out of the Rovers’ backfield.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound tailback provided glimpses of his game-breaking abilities last season as a two-way starter (receiver and safety), but it wasn’t until he electrified during this fall’s preseason camp that he earned his permanent spot in the backfield for the season.
“We noticed his natural explosiveness,” Rootstown football head coach Chris Knopick said. “Because of how he looked during preseason camp, he worked his way into the starting backfield and really answered any doubts in Week 1 versus Crestwood.”
And he answered loudly.
In his first game as a featured runner, Morgan rushed for 327 yards on 35 carries and scored six touchdowns to lead his Rovers to a 42-30 victory over Crestwood.
The total was the second-most in school history for a single game, falling only behind Coontz’s 375 yards against Grand Valley last fall, while also being just the sixth 300-yard game in the history of Rootstown football.
Suddenly, it was not just Rootstown taking notice of Morgan.
He had everyone’s attention and has never stopped.
Morgan currently leads Portage County with 1,205 yards rushing this season, and he is averaging 241 yards per game through the Rovers’ perfect 6-0 start.
Like any good running game, however, it is never solely about the runner.
The offensive line and scheme are equally important components.
Both have complimented Morgan’s speed and aggressiveness that he hits the line of scrimmage with.
“Dawson’s biggest strength is the speed at which he hits the hole, and we noticed that early,” Knopick said. “We made some changes from our (preseason) scrimmages until Week 1 to maximize this exact trait, with schemes that allow him to attack downhill.
“The second part, though, is Dawson’s trust in his offensive line,” Knopick added. “If you know your guys are going to get the job done up front, it allows you to play without being hesitant in the backfield.”
The powerful and athletic offensive line, which has delivered clinical performances, includes junior Brian Youngblood (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), senior Kyle Kuharich (5-11, 205), senior Tony Karp (6-1, 280), senior Dominic Siglow (6-3, 280) and sophomore Braden Wright (6-4, 260).
It is not often that this quintet does not create a hole or running lane for Morgan that allows him to pop to the second level or beyond.
“We tell our backs, ‘You have to be through the line before blocks have a chance to fail’,” Knopick said.
Morgan has done that a lot this season and has been a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He leads the Rovers and is currently third in Portage County with 14 touchdowns in the Rovers’ six games.
He has been willing to share the spotlight with his teammates, but ultimately, his individual commitment and work ethic set the stage for Morgan, whose success did not start on the first night of the season on Aug. 19.
Morgan’s season, in fact, began in January, as he worked diligently inside the Rovers’ strength and conditioning program.
“He was one of our many guys who rarely, if ever, missed a session,” Knopick said.
“He worked himself to become one of our strongest and fastest kids and that has shown on the field.”
And then some.