He is tenacious, hard-hitting and sometimes downright scary, but Miami linebacker Dan Morgan might be even more relentless off the field than he is on it.
While playing Pop Warner football in southern Pennsylvania, young Dan decided he loved the Hurricanes. For years he and his father, Dan Sr., would scour stores for the orange-and-green merchandise. Dan never wavered, though, and it became easier to be a 'Cane when the Morgan family moved to south Florida about 11 years ago.
Thanks to NCAA probation, the time came when it wasn't so easy to be a 'Cane. Morgan became one anyway. When top south Florida prospects were fleeing for parts north and farther north, Morgan stayed home. In 1997, his freshman season, he was rewarded with a starting job and a 47-0 loss to Florida State.
"We were a terrible team," Morgan said. "Things weren't going good and we were young. It wasn't fun."
Look who's having fun now.
Okay, so maybe he doesn't show it. But Morgan, who this month collected the Butkus Award for the nation's top linebacker and the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik trophies honoring the nation's top defensive player _ all without cracking a smile _ has led the Hurricanes back to glory.
He also has rewritten the record book at a school known for linebackers. He is the first Hurricane player to surpass 500 career tackles (532) and the first to record at least 100 in all four seasons.
Coach Butch Davis said the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Morgan, as much as anyone, has been the key to Miami's rebuilding. Now the Hurricanes are playing Florida on Tuesday for what they hope is a shot at a share of a national title.
"I don't think one individual could do much more for a program than Danny's done," Davis said last week. "He has been a model in absolutely everything he's done. He's been a great practice player, a terrific student. He's a phenomenal player on game day. He has set a terrific image as a role model for the younger players on our team.
"He's had an awful lot of awards this year, and not one of those has inflated his ego. He's proud that he's done it, but every time he has ever opened his mouth he has talked about how his teammates helped him do it. He's tough and physically gifted. He's got great instincts athletically.
"And I guess probably the real mark and the thing I will always remember about him is his competitiveness. He is as tough of a competitor as I have ever seen."
Morgan is legendary at Miami for his sideline-to-sideline defense and his ability to play through anything against anyone, even getting up for lowly opponents like McNeese State. Against the Cowboys in the season opener he accidentally was hit in the head by a teammate after jumping over a pile, and threw up twice before the next play. But he didn't leave the field.
"I love the game of football, and I think you need to love the game of football to be a great player," Morgan said. "It takes a lot of hours and you've got to love this game to be special at it."
Running back James Johnson has another word for it.
"He's crazy," Johnson said. "I tell him that all the time. Dan's not really the loud, rowdy type of person, but (he) can break toes and stuff and still be out there running. He is intense all the time. I'll have to talk to him sometime and ask him where he gets the energy."
Perhaps Morgan just has a talent for conserving it. He rarely smiles, doesn't talk much and prefers quiet times with his parents and sister over anything else. That doesn't mean he has no personality.
"He loves to laugh; it's one of his favorite pastimes," Dan Morgan Sr. said. "He's just very selective about who he lets into his world."
A cherished part of Morgan's world is an old T-shirt worn by former Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth, winner of the first Butkus Award and Morgan's idol since his Pop Warner days. Morgan is nothing like the brash, self-promoting Bosworth _ except when he's playing.
"His persona left quite an impression on Dan," his father said. "He's quite the opposite of (Bosworth) off the field, but on the field, he's vicious. He talks. He runs his mouth sometimes. If somebody jaws at him, believe me, he can dish it back."
And then he backs it up. For years, Morgan has started the season by scrawling his goals on a sheet of paper. If he didn't reach one or two that season, he almost always would do it the next.
This year's list went something like this: 1) win national championship; 2) win Big East championship; 3) win Butkus Award.
Two out of three isn't bad, but when he gets another chance he usually makes it happen. Morgan might personally see to it that if the Seminoles beat Oklahoma, they will have to share that national title.
"He will not let anything get in his way," Dan Sr. said. "Once he sees the ball and where it's going, anything in between is an afterthought. He's like that in his life too."
_ Information from staff writer Joanne Korth and other news organizations was used in this report.