When Alfred Morris was drafted in the sixth round by the Washington Redskins, no one could have predicted that he would go on to break Clinton Portis’ franchise rushing record, and finish the 2012 season as the NFL’s second leading rusher in his rookie year. With more than 1,600 yards rushed and 13 touchdowns scored, Morris exploded onto the national stage, bringing a Florida Atlantic University tradition with him. After each touchdown, he proudly held up his “Owl Fingers” as part of his end-zone celebration.
“A lot of people don’t know what the Owl Fingers are,” said Morris. “They ask me, ‘Was I in the Kappa Fraternity or from Miami?’ So I have to explain that it’s FAU’s ‘Salute the Hoot.’ I am proud of my university.”
That pride was echoed by Morris consistently each week, as he demonstrated to the nation his talents as an athlete on the field, and generosity and kindness off the field.
“Alfred Morris has made all of us here at FAU incredibly proud,” said FAU President Mary Jane Saunders. “Watching the Washington Redskins football games was so exciting, especially when Alfred flashed those Owl fingers. The whole FAU community is thrilled that he’s had so much success at the pro-level, and represented us so well as an Owl.”
Despite being FAU’s all-time leading rusher with more than 3,500 yards and 27 touchdowns throughout his collegiate career, Morris’ path to NFL stardom was based on hard work and proving doubters wrong. Selected as the 173rd overall pick of the draft, Morris joined the Redskins as the No. 4 running back behind NFL veterans Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Commentators were uncertain if he was big enough to grind out tough carries, or fast enough to break loose in the open field. Game after game in the preseason, Morris proved himself by running hard and making the most of every opportunity. Finally, the night before the season opener against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 9, 2012, Morris was named the starter. He went on to score two touchdowns that game, solidifying his role as the Redskins No.1-running back.
“Can you believe that he’s up there in Washington D.C. and he’s getting these kinds of mentions,” said former FAU Coach Howard Schnellenberger. “Every time they talk about him, they mention FAU. He worked hard and deserves all of it.”
Schnellenberger and his staff were the only collegiate coaches to see Morris’ potential, recruiting him with a full scholarship to FAU so he could play for the Owls. Morris is now one of 40 former FAU student-athletes who have gone on to compete at a professional level, including three others in the NFL —Tennessee Titans’ Rusty Smith, Arizona Cardinals’ Rob Housler, and Houston Texans’ Lestar Jean.
Morris’ hard work has only been matched by his humility. He still chooses to drive the same 1991 Mazda 626 he has had since his college days. When visiting his family’s home in Pensacola, he volunteers to sleep on the couch in order to make room for his six brothers. During the holidays, at a Macy’s charity event, Redskins players were asked to write Christmas letters to Santa. While the other players asked for playoff spots and Super Bowl titles, Morris’ letter instead asked Santa what he wanted for Christmas, saying, “You give every year and it’s your turn to receive, because it’s not always about receiving.”
Although the Redskins’ season came to an end on Jan. 6 when they were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks, Morris gave Redskins fans a lot to cheer about this season. He helped the team achieve their first NFC Eastern Division title since 1999, with his biggest game occurring on Dec. 29, 2012. Morris rushed for 200 yards and scored three touchdowns against rival Dallas Cowboys – a game the Redskins had to win to make it to the NFL playoffs. Combined with Heisman trophy-winning rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Redskins then boasted the No. 1 rushing attack in the league.
“NFL fans have found out what the FAU community has known for years. Not only is Alfred tremendously talented, but his character is something truly rare,” said President Saunders. “He is an ideal role model and well-respected by all. FAU is lucky to call him one of its own.”
As Morris continues to show he has what it takes to be an NFL star, he vows to never forget the only university that offered him a football scholarship.
“FAU means a lot to me. I was not only able to continue to play the game I love, but I was able to receive a degree,” said Morris. “FAU will always have a special place in my heart. That’s why I will always show my pride when I score a touchdown — by saluting the hoot.”
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