Growing Up Near Lambeau Field, Idolizing Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers Jack Bell
You can take the kid out of Wisconsin but you can’t take Wisconsin out of the kid.
Exhibit A: When James Morgan left Green Bay’s “frozen” tundra and ended up as a graduate transfer playing QB for Florida International University (via Bowling Green) he chose to wear No. 12, which is worn by one of his idols, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
Exhibit B: When he was drafted by the Jets, he chose to wear No. 4, which was worn by another one of his idols, the Packers’ great (and later Jets QB) Brett Favre.
Exhibit C: The first Green Bay area product at quarterback to be drafted in 32 years, Morgan said he always dreamed of playing in Lambeau Field.
Sometimes dreams do come true.
And in the shadow of the statue of Bart Starr outside the stadium, Morgan and the Jets spent two days in joint practices with the Packers ahead of Saturday’s late afternoon preseason game.
“I was [Favre’s No.] 4 up until eighth grade and then in high school I switched to [Rodgers’] 12,” Morgan said during the 2020 NFL scouting combine. “I’ll let you connect the dots on that one.”
Now with the Jets after being drafted in the fourth round in 2020, Morgan had the unique opportunity to go home during training camp — to see his family and soak in the charm of his hometown, Titletown, to the locals.
“It’s awesome just to think back to two years ago, I was here watching practice while I was in college and picturing being here some day,” Morgan told reporters after practice. “To be on the other side of that fence was awesome.”
Though he will be on the other side of the field from his favorite team — from childhood, that is — Morgan is reveling in this special slice of time.
“Just driving by Ashwaubenon, my old high school, like everything I’ve driven by a million times now as a Jet it was really cool, it felt like I was going home a little bit,” Morgan said. “Then to actually be there and be practicing over there it was awesome. Growing up going to games and picturing yourself being there, it was definitely in a sense a dream come true for me. It is going to be awesome on Saturday. I am excited to get going for that.”
As a rookie in the 2020 NFL season, Morgan never saw the field during the regular season. Now, in the preseason he is in the mix with Mike White and the recently signed well-traveled veteran Josh Johnson behind rookie Zach Wilson. In last Saturday’s game against the Giants, Morgan completed 5 of 9 passes for 45 yards.
“He is absolutely going for it, absolutely going for it and he is getting better,” head coach Robert Saleh said. “When he gets those opportunities, especially under the lights in preseason action and all that stuff, to take advantage of it, don’t make it any bigger.
“I know he’s from here and I know he’s really amped up to show how good he is. So we’re excited for him, but at the same time, he’s got to stay in the moment and treat it like every other day.”
Morgan (6-4, 229) was a three-sport star in high school, playing basketball and running on a state championship 4X400-meter relay team. After his three years at Bowling Green, Morgan played two more years at FIU, completing 420 of 683 (61.5%) with 40 TDs and 12 INTs. But the transition from a mid-major college program to the NFL has been slow. He stood tall against the Giants, but there’s still room to improve.
“Knocking off some nerves, he really settled down in the game and he’s doing the same thing,” Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. “He’s doing a good job. Such a cool guy to work with and you can see why he’s been so successful up until this point and continues to work.”
While his mother has been collecting tickets (she has corralled 35 at last count) and planning her tailgate party for Saturday afternoon, Morgan played the “fanboy,” in Wilson’s words, when he had a chance to chat with Rodgers.
“I would say it was really cool just getting his perspective when we talked two-minute drill,” Morgan said. “He wanted to hear about our plays and I picked his mind. The depth that goes into every play for him, what he can tell about a defense on every play was really cool, especially for a young quarterback to be able to share the field with him was a cool deal, for sure. I admired him and Brett Favre growing up.
“I think for me, I just need to focus on every single play, concentrate one play at a time. We had a sports psychologist come in, [Dr.] Kevin Elko and he said just be where your feet are. It’s an intense focus on what you’re doing right now. It’s kind of how I approach it.”
He added: “I spend a lot of extra time on the field before and after practice so I feel comfortable in a game. Kobe Bryant once said that when he’s taking a game-winning shot it was something that he had done 1,000 times before. That’s the kind of mentality I want to have so it’s comfortable when the lights come on.”
The lights of Lambeau Field. For a kid from Wisconsin, from Green Bay, there is nothing bigger, nothing brighter.