Streamlined : Track Coaches Have Helped Make Trojans’ Morton a Super Receiver
In the third quarter of USC’s 34-3 victory over Washington State last Saturday night, wide receiver Johnnie Morton caught a pass from Rob Johnson at the Trojan 46-yard line, then made like Carl Lewis, zooming down the Coliseum sideline.
It was the most exciting play of the night and a most interested spectator was Barbara Edmonson, a USC sprint coach who worked with Morton last spring.
“Johnnie was picture-perfect on that play,” she said. “He was running with a sprinter’s lean all the way, not upright like he was a year ago.”
Morton is another example of a football player who might have helped himself with spring track work instead of spring football practice.
And if Jim Bush, USC’s head track coach, had his way, all football players would work with sprint coaches.
“Tom Harmon once told me the reason why he won the Heisman Trophy in 1940 was because he got his legs in shape for football by running track the previous spring and summer,” Bush said.
“You don’t need great speed to be successful in football. Anyone who can run 100 meters under 11 seconds is fast on a football field. Morton ran 10.90 in track (10.92, actually) for us last spring.
“But 10.90 speed, when used properly, can be very fast. Did you see those two Washington State defensive backs chasing Morton? Neither of them were using their arms right when they ran, or they might have caught Johnnie.
“Johnnie was running so smoothly down that sideline, you couldn’t even tell he was carrying a football.”
Edmonson, who also worked with USC All-American Curtis Conway last spring, said two elements in Morton’s running motion were modified.
“Johnnie was slightly splayed, or duck-footed with his feet, and we fixed that,” she said. “And he was too upright. Sometimes, he almost leaned backward when he ran. We got him into a forward lean. And he did a lot of work getting his arm swings into sync with his legs. He wanted to improve his running so much, he was a joy to coach.”
With Coach John Robinson’s blessing, Bush will have more USC football players on his track team next spring.
“We’ll have Ed Hervey, Ken Grace, Anthony Volsan and Irwin Lincoln,” Bush said. “We can help all of them.”
Said Robinson: “Spring football is important, but running is a big part of football. If those people come out of it running better, that’s great.”
Hervey is a 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver who played quarterback at Pasadena City College; Grace, 5-10, is another wide receiver junior transfer, from Contra Costa City College, and Volsan is a 5-10 freshman wide receiver-kick return specialist from Merced.
Lincoln is a sophomore cornerback from Richmond, Calif., whom Bush calls his best hurdle prospect.
Edmonson and Bush weren’t Morton’s only running coaches. He spent the summer training under Danny Daniels, who also is the personal running coach for the Rams’ James Lofton.
“You can’t have speed unless you have a foundation of strength,” Daniels said.
“So Johnnie spent much of his time with me running the hills at Kenneth Hahn Park on La Cienega. Then he and James ran at Long Beach City College’s track, running 800 meters, 600 and then 500, with three minutes’ rest.”
No one can say for certain how much Edmonson, Bush and Daniels had to do with Morton’s success, but Morton is having a spectacular season.
“He’s like Lynn Swann in that he has the ability to contort his body on a dive or a leap and still have the concentration to make a catch,” Robinson said.
Morton is averaging 17 yards per catch and has 560 yards receiving.
His 69-yard play with Johnson Saturday was only part of it. Twice, he made Swann-like leaps over double coverage to catch passes for gains of 40 and 45 yards.
His yards receiving per game, 140, rank him third in NCAA statistics.
Saturday, Morton had eight catches for a school-record 229 yards. A senior, he should become USC’s all-time reception leader this season.
If football’s so-called skill position players can be helped with running instruction, why not the sport’s pachyderms?
One of the saddest sights on a football practice field is that of a 275-pound lineman running sprints at the end of practice. No one expects the big guys to have sprint speed, but with many there is little effort visible.
Rob Waldrop, Arizona’s 6-1 1/2, 272-pound All-American nose guard, decided to go against the grain a year ago.
“One reason why a lot of big players don’t run well is because they’re not expected to,” Waldrop said. “But to me, it was part of stepping up to the next level. I worked last year a lot with our strength coach on running. At Arizona, defensive linemen on some pass coverage assignments have to get downfield. I got my 40(-yard) time down to 4.67 from 4.80 and I feel I’m a much better player after all that work.”