Morris Norrise Sr. wanted to make sure his son was prepared for the ups and downs of being a successful football player.
After youth, high school and Sacramento State games, father would toss questions at son as if he were conducting a televised interview.
“Whether I do good or do bad, he’ll interview me,” said Norrise Jr., a senior wide receiver for the Hornets. “The idea is not to say anything that’s bad or downgrading to the team or to make excuses when bad things happen.”
Dad was there last November as a teary-eyed Norrise came off the field after the Hornets lost to UC Davis 34-27 in the Causeway Classic at Aggie Stadium.
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Two critical mistakes by Norrise helped the Aggies win the rivalry game for the third year in a row and keep Sac State from reaching the postseason for the first time in 24 years.
Norrise fumbled Colton Schmidt’s 63-yard punt that the Aggies’ Steven Pitts recovered in the end zone for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Then, with Sac State leading 27-26 early in the fourth quarter, Hornets quarterback Garrett Safron handed off to running back Ezekiel Graham, who pitched back to Norrise.
Safron ran down the field into the end zone and Norrise let the ball fly. But Safron was covered by three Aggies, and Phillip Trappas intercepted for a touchback. UC Davis scored the winning touchdown five plays later.
“I was bawling like a baby,” Norrise said. “My dad comes up to me and says, ‘Don’t let me see that. We have an interview to do.’”
The wide receiver could have blamed the inclement weather for the fumbled punt. He could have criticized the coaches for making him try a risky trick play.
“I messed up,” Norrise said. “Nothing anybody could say to try to make me feel better could change that.”
Norrise still feels responsible for the miscues, and it’s a burden he carries into today’s 60th Causeway Classic at Hornet Stadium.
“This game is going to be the biggest of my career,” Norrise said. “Not only is it my last game, not only is it our last chance (as seniors) to beat Davis, and not only is it going to be my last chance to be on the field with this group of guys and coaches who I love, it’s my last chance to leave a positive mark.”
Regardless of how Norrise plays today, he already has left a mark on the Sac State program.
“He’s got to go down as one of our best receivers in school history,” Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck said. “He’s shown throughout his career he can make plays and, hopefully, he’s got a few left in him (today).”
Norrise is second in most major career receiving categories, many behind former NFL receiver Fred Amey, including receptions (208), receiving yards (2,549) and touchdowns (19). He was an All-Big Sky Conference second-team selection last season and honorable mention as a sophomore and freshman.
This season, Norrise leads the team with a career-high 75 receptions and is second in yards with 769.
He’s also a key off-field performer for the Hornets. His outgoing personality makes him a natural for helping potential recruits feel comfortable and welcomed.
“He’s been our ace recruiter in the offseason,” Sperbeck said. “I was joking with him the other day that we’re going to have to bring him back to host.”
Safron, who was a walk-on and is now the team’s star player, credited Norrise for being a good salesman. They developed a bond that is still strong.
“I love that man,” said Safron, who is breaking Sac State records in bunches. “He’s such a good person to be around. It’s nice that I’ve stayed friends with the first person I really got to know when I came here.”
Senior defensive back Markell Williams said Norrise has shown tremendous character by how he handled the adversity of last year’s loss in the Causeway Classic.
“That he would put the loss on himself shows the type of leader he is,” Williams said. “I’d admire that because it really was a team loss. We can look back at the film and see a number of plays we should have made that could have changed the outcome of that game.”
Norrise, now 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, came to the Hornets as a skinny, unsung 17-year-old who thought he was headed to Southern Utah to play defensive back before the Hornets made a late scholarship offer.
Now 22, he hasn’t abandoned his dream of playing professionally. But if it doesn’t happen, he’ll have a communications study degree when he graduates next month.
“It’s bittersweet,” Norrise said. “I’ve been playing football and going to school since the sixth grade. I’m either going to transition to the NFL or to getting a job. I’m going to be on my own. I’m going to miss all these guys and the friendships.”
UC DAVIS AT
When: Today, 3:30 p.m.
TV/radio: CSNCA, 1140, 1380
UC DAVIS (4-7, 4-3) AT SACRAMENTO STATE (5-6, 4-3)
• Where: Hornet Stadium (21,195)
• When: 3:30 p.m.
• TV/radio: CSNCA, 1140, 1380
• Aggies at a glance: Under first-year coach Ron Gould, UC Davis has transitioned to a more balanced and methodical offensive attack, averaging 198.5 passing yards and 149.1 rushing yards. Walk-on running back Gabe Manzanares (1,163 yards, eight touchdowns) has emerged as the team’s most electrifying player. Senior quarterback Randy Wright (1,500 passing yards, 10 TDs), who will be going for his fourth consecutive Causeway Classic win as the starter, has a top target in wide receiver Tom Hemmingsen (53 catches, 588 yards, three TDs). Charles Boyett (81 tackles), Aarynn Jones (61 tackles), Dre Allen, Jonathan Perkins and emerging standout Shamawn Wright have made the Aggies the best in the Big Sky Conference at defending against the pass (179 yards). Steven Pitts (61 tackles, three sacks) leads a linebacking corps that has a strong local flavor with Del Campo’s Ryan Dimino and Artice Nelson and Pleasant Grove’s Jonathan Bias in the mix. Nick King (57 tackles, six sacks) and Anthony Kaspar (43 tackles, two blocks) are the anchors up front.
• Hornets at a glance: Junior Garrett Safron (3,068 passing yards, 27 TDs; 458 rushing yards, seven TDs) already is being talked about as the most exciting quarterback in Hornets history. He has plenty of targets in Morris Norrise (75 catches, 769 yards, four TDs), DeAndre Carter (64 catches, 934 yards, 14 TDs), Shane Harrison (44 catches, 534 yards, one TD) and former Pleasant Grove tight end Cole Hikutini (19 catches, 191 yards, five TDs). Brandon Kellermann (333 rushing yards, two TDs), a Bella Vista product, and Ezekiel Graham (350 rushing yards, two TDs) provide a contrast of running styles. Todd Davis (119 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks) leads the defense at linebacker. Del Oro freshman linebacker Russell Smith (73 tackles) is second in tackles while Darnell Sankey (59 tackles, 9.5 for losses, six sacks) and Trent Eskew (34 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks) anchor the front. Osagie Odiase (45 tackles, six passes defended, three interceptions), Robert Beale (33 tackles, six passes defended, three interceptions), Dijon Washington (46 tackles) and Dexter Alcala (38 tackles), filling in for the injured Markell Williams, lead the DBs.
• The series: The Aggies lead 42-18, including wins in the last three games. One of Sac State’s victories over the Aggies was a Division II playoff win in 1988. A perpetual trophy made from concrete from the Interstate 80 Yolo Causeway is awarded to the winner.
– Bill Paterson