'Morse Guys' Have Football Reunion : Football: Five players from the city high school play at the Rose Bowl today.


Aztecs free safety Darrell Lewis wanted to get a message to his friends at UCLA, but he didn't have an address or phone number for Teddy Lawrence or Tommy Bennett.

So Lewis apparently did the next best thing. He put the word out, and it eventually got up to Westwood.

"Tell Darrell I got the message," said Lawrence, a redshirt freshman cornerback at UCLA and Lewis' former teammate at Morse High. "The message was relayed by somebody . . . that he's out to get me and a few other people."

Lawrence had a message to return.

"Don't get too pumped up," he said. "That BYU game was deceiving. We're a much better team than that."

"I'm not on the kickoff team, so he's lucky," said Lewis of Lawrence, who is the Bruins' No. 3 returner. "Teddy told me out of high school that he was going to play defense. I told him that was a smart move. I told him, 'Don't return punts. If you return a punt, I'm going to tear your head off.' "

Lewis will stand by that grim warning for 60 minutes today, as the Aztecs play UCLA at 12:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl. But off the field, he might greet Lawrence's head with a smiling face.

Their words are harsh, but the tone of their voices reveal traces of affection as Lawrence and Bennett of UCLA and Lewis, Ty Morrison and Larry Maxey of SDSU talk about playing against their old high school chums for the first time.

Lewis, defensive end Morrison and Lawrence played together on Morse's 1988 state and San Diego Section 3-A champion team. Bennett was was promoted to the varsity from the junior varsity for the playoffs that year, and both he and Lawrence became Lewis proteges.

Morrison and Lewis took scholarships to Ohio State, but both transferred to SDSU in 1990, the year Lawrence, a premier option quarterback, and Bennett, a feared safety and receiver, led Morse to another section crown and a No. 2 state ranking.

Maxey, a fifth year senior H-Back, the graybeard of the five, has tutored them all.

"In the back of my mind, I want (Lawrence and Bennett) to play well," said Maxey. "I know they're kind of pumped to be playing against me, Darrell and Ty, but . . . hey, let's get it on."

The fact the No. 21 Aztecs (1-0-1) and No. 11 Bruins (2-0) are both undefeated and battling for regional pride is reason enough for an adrenaline rush. But none of the five wants to lose his right to brag when he comes back to 6905 Skyline Drive in the off-season.

History is on the side of Bennett and Lawrence, the two redshirt freshmen, who have already figured in some big plays for UCLA. The Bruins are 14-0-1 against the Aztecs.

"There's a first time for everything," said Morrison. "Tell them I said, 'Good luck.' Tell them I'll see them out there."

Said Bennett, "I've waited for a long time for (today) to come. I hope they do well but, eh . . . we're going to win."

If Bennett, 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds, sounds a little brash, it could be that he's sitting on top of the world. Bennett, 19, is No. 2 on the depth chart behind junior Othello Henderson at free safety, a spot manned by a succession of former NFL first-round draft choices.

In his first game against BYU last week, Bennett jarred quarterback John Walsh on a blitz and forced a key interception in UCLA's 17-10 victory.

In SDSU's 45-38 victory over the Cougars, Lewis intercepted Walsh for a 57-yard touchdown and helped cause punt returner Brad Clark's game-clinching fumble. Against USC, Morrison had a sack, five tackles and pressured quarterback Rob Johnson all day.

During their redshirt season last fall, UCLA assistant Rick Neuheisel predicted Bennett and Lawrence would be great players.

"I'd be disappointed if they were any less," said Morrison.

The Morse community seems to rally around football. Many ex-Tigers have started their own families there and become active in the football booster club. Morse Coach John Shacklett now finds sons of former players on his roster in this, his 22nd year, at Morse. Such loyalty and the affection his players seem to have for one another, past and present, are what keeps him going.

"That's what it's all about," Shacklett said. "I can't get to their games very often. But it's exciting and very gratifying and very emotional for me to even watch the kids on TV."

"We're always bragging about our Morse alumni," said Bennett, one of 16 players from the school who are playing Division I football. "We relate to each other. It's pretty nice. I mean, there's some high-school teammates that came up to UCLA, and I don't see the same closeness."

When Lawrence was a sophomore, he told Lewis that he would match the senior's 4.0 grade-point average the next year. He fulfilled his vows. Bennett, meanwhile, grabbed Lewis' No. 8 after he graduated and fought to retain it at UCLA, which he did after quarterback Tommy Maddox left for the NFL.

"I was asking for it when Tommy was there," Bennett said. "I kept bugging 'em and bugging 'em."

"We all helped each other get better and become the kind of players we are today," said Lewis. "It's gratifying to get the chance to see each other on the field."

Morrison and Lewis, both juniors, both 21, both married with children, at times have been borderline paternal with today's enemies.

"I told Teddy, 'Try not to get too far from home,' " said Morrison. " 'Only go far enough to the point where you won't feel like you're getting homesick. And where it's going to cost you a lot of money to come back, if you need to.' "

Lawrence, 5-9 and 184 pounds with 10.7 speed in the 100 meters, might have been the most exciting player play at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium in a section title game. In 1988, as a sophomore, he returned a punt for one touchdown and had a record 106-yard interception for another in Morse's 31-28 victory over Orange Glen. In 1990, he returned another punt for a score and engineered the offense to another title victory over Orange Glen, 28-7.

But Lawrence said he's in the doghouse with the Bruins, his confidence low, after he fumbled a kickoff and allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass in his only two plays against Cal State Fullerton two weeks ago.

His former teammates, today's foes, were quick to rally with support.

"For his first game, just to be there is a great play," said Lewis. "He can't do nothing but get better.

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