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No Longer Distressed in the Midwest : Football: Ty Morrison and Darrell Lewis were unhappy at Ohio State, so they came home to play for San Diego State.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tailback named Robert Smith quit the Ohio State football team last week.

He set the Buckeyes’ freshman rushing record last year with 1,126 yards, surpassing the previous best of 867 set in 1972 by a pretty fair back named Archie Griffin.

It didn’t matter. Smith left in a huff, saying Buckeye Coach John Cooper and his staff do not treat their players with dignity, claiming bed checks and curfew policies interfere with homework and that the coaches do not have enough regard for the players’ safety.

Maybe Smith will be back. His departure was big enough that he was requested to meet with both Ohio State’s athletic director and the president of the university, which he did earlier this week. He also met with Cooper. Word was that he might return.

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At San Diego State, two players were well aware of the Smith ordeal. A year ago, Ty Morrison and Darrell Lewis were in a similar situation. They were unhappy football players at Ohio State looking to get out.

Right before last season started, they transferred to SDSU.

They are spending this fall working their way into the Aztec lineup and putting their experiences at Ohio State behind them. In separate interviews this week, Morrison and Lewis each called his decision to leave Ohio State “the best decision of my life.”

“There’s more that’s going to happen with the (Ohio State) coaching staff,” said Morrison, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound sophomore. “Something needs to be done. You’ve got your star running back up and quit the team. And two guys from another state up and leave the team right before last season starts.

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“It’s obvious there’s something wrong there. (The coaching staff) is too strict. They weren’t players’ coaches. I think more than just Robert Smith is going to quit the team.”

Lewis agreed with Morrison’s assessment of the coaching staff.

“It was a feeling that all they cared about was how many games they won, and not how the players were doing,” said Lewis, a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore. “They had rules that weren’t very lenient toward the players. They were too domineering. . . .

“They just weren’t too fair. I wanted to stop playing football. It was a dread of playing football. I was more happy going to school there than playing football.”

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But Lewis’ unhappiness even affected his schoolwork. He said he had a 3.8 grade-point average in high school, and that it was only 2.28 after three quarters at Ohio State. It went back up to 3.66 after a year at SDSU. He is majoring in public administration.

Lewis was also frustrated by what he said was the inability of the Ohio State medical staff to diagnose an injury he suffered at the end of his freshman season in 1989. It was a groin strain, he said, that didn’t heal. In the off-season, Ohio State doctors had him undergo surgery for a hernia.

When that didn’t help, he said, they sent him to a specialist in Cleveland three days before spring football opened. The specialist, he said, told him a joint in his pelvis was strained and then prescribed rest.

The hernia operation? Unnecessary, he said.

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“That was really my down point,” Lewis said.

Finally, a few days into fall camp last year, Lewis left a morning meeting and kept right on walking. He walked over to Morrison’s place and the two sat and talked. They had gone to Morse together, been through a lot together and they were going to get through this together.

They talked about how unhappy they were at Ohio State, and how they missed their homes in San Diego. Lewis ended up spending the night at Morrison’s.

“We both needed to pep each other up,” Lewis said. “It was a brother-to-brother talk, letting those feelings out to each other.”

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Said Morrison: “We talked about how we were both uncomfortable and how we had better do something now rather than wait and screw up our careers.”

SDSU Coach Al Luginbill had recruited both Morrison and Lewis out of Morse, but the two had visions of big conferences and exotic, far-away colleges in mind.

“A lot of schools that recruited me in California and in the west, I overlooked because I wanted to get far away from home,” Lewis said. “We wanted to go out and experience life on our own. But when we got out there, there was nobody to depend on.”

Lewis chose Ohio State over the University of Washington. Morrison picked the Buckeyes over Arizona State.

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But they decided it wasn’t working out. And they kept talking. Finally, they said, let’s go home.

The problem was, when they decided to transfer, Cooper wouldn’t let them out of their Ohio State scholarships. They knew they wouldn’t be eligible to play right away at SDSU anyway, because the NCAA makes transfers sit out a season. But because Cooper wouldn’t release them from scholarship, they couldn’t accept an SDSU scholarship.

So each was forced to pay his own way to SDSU while sitting out last season.

“I guess (Cooper) felt like I did him an injustice,” Morrison said. “He kept me out there for a whole year and got me a (summer) job. But he couldn’t understand, if I didn’t feel comfortable.”

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The whole thing made Morrison angry.

“Yeah, he knew I would have problems paying my way through school,” Morrison said. “If a coach wants to go to a different school, he just ups and goes. He makes the decision. But when a player does that, (the coach) has the authority to hold you back. And you have to bust your butt to pay to get through school. It’s really hard on you and your family.”

Morrison said last year was one of his most difficult.

“It didn’t seem like it was ever going to end,” he said. “It went on and on and on. There were some hard times. Money was short. Really short.”

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Morrison, a Parade Magazine All-American while at Morse, has three years of eligibility left. He didn’t play at Ohio State in 1989 because he didn’t meet Proposition 48 requirements. And he redshirted last year at SDSU.

Lewis also has three years of eligibility left. He played in 10 games at Ohio State in his freshman season in 1989, mainly as a reserve safety and on special teams. He had 16 tackles and broke up one pass. Then he too sat out last year after transferring.

Both figure to get some playing time this season, although neither has won a starting job. Lewis, a strong safety whose biggest attributes are his football savvy and physical style, has been battling Chris Johnson throughout the fall, but Johnson started last year and Lewis has had difficulty making up for the lack of experience.

Morrison, who is battling Turaj Smith, George Glaze and Steve Matuszewicz for a defensive end position, hasn’t made as much progress as Lewis because of injuries. Morrison suffered a slight tear of a knee ligament on the first day of spring football this year and didn’t return until the fall. Now his practice time is limited because of a groin injury.

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Since Morrison sat out his freshman season at Ohio State and then sat out last year because of the transfer, he hasn’t played in a football game since 1988, his senior year in high school.

“He’s just rusty, that’s all,” said Barry Lamb, SDSU defensive coordinator. “You can do a lot against high school athletes that you can’t get away with against college athletes.

“He may not be going in the right spots yet, but he makes plays because he goes so hard. If you have a problem, that’s the one to have.”

Morrison’s biggest problem, perhaps, is that he was playing outside linebacker at Ohio State and now, as a defensive end, he has to get used to playing inside the offensive guard and tackle rather than on the outside.

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“It’s easier to say it than do it,” he said.

Lewis, meanwhile, had difficulty in practices last year and ended up pulling a hamstring in the spring because, SDSU coaches said, he was overweight. He came to SDSU last year at a little over 200 pounds. Part of the problem was that the groin injury didn’t allow him to work out for so long. Also, Ohio State wanted him bigger than SDSU does.

So Lewis worked out hard over the summer, dropped some weight, and reported this fall at a much leaner 185.

“I like what he did over the summer,” Lamb said. “He prepared himself to be a starter.

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“We ask our guys to do some things they don’t necessarily ask them to do at Ohio State. He doesn’t need to be over 200 pounds to play his position at San Diego State. He needs to be quicker and faster because of the style of defense we play and because of the style of offenses we face.”

Their new season begins a week from Sunday, when the Aztecs play host to Cal State Long Beach. That’s the day that Morrison and Lewis will walk onto the San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium turf for the first time as Aztecs . . . and for their first appearance in San Diego since the 1988 San Diego Section CIF championship game, which was also at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

The circle is complete.


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