Morton star in making as Hampton QB

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   With Mitchell Morton at quarterback for the Hampton High football team, the Bulldog offense has the potential to be more dangerous than hauling a truckload of nitroglycerin on worn-out shocks.
   A 6-0, 180-pound junior entering his second season in a starting role, Morton has all the tools to capture a sparkling career and elevate the Hampton passing game to rarely-seen heights. This year, he'll have experience on his side.
   "It's going to be a lot better this year," Morton said of his grip on the offense. "I have a year of experience under my belt, and we just look better offensively. I get the looks from the quarterback standpoint better. I've matured basically -- a lot more. That's going to help us out."
   Seldom does a sophomore start at QB for Hampton, but Morton got that chance in 2001 and didn't disappoint. Showing real promise, he took a sizable step toward becoming, at the very least, one of the most productive passers in the history of the Hampton program.
   Averaging just nine throws a game (100 attempts in 11 contests), the young signal-caller completed 47 passes for 691 yards and five touchdowns. Picked off three times in a season-opening performance vs. Cloudland, Morton tossed only three more interceptions the rest of the way.
   "At the first of last year, Mitchell was pretty doggone green," said Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell. "He played well early, but he still didn't understand what he was doing until about midseason.
   "He's come leaps and bounds. Even since we started practice this fall, he's improved a great deal. If things go well, he could turn into something pretty doggone good."
   According to Morton, who also had six rushing TDs a year ago, he'll be better in tune this season with the mental aspects of playing quarterback.
   "Last year I didn't have as much confidence as I do this year," he explained. "I didn't know what was going to happen -- it was new to me. This year I know what's going to happen -- I know what's going to be expected of me.
   "I've seen the field before and I know what it looks like. I looked at what I did wrong last year, and I've tried to correct it this year."
   While the Hampton air attack traditionally takes a back seat to the Bulldog ground game, the team's offense has the chance to achieve a true sense of balance in 2002.
   Morton, of course, can't do it alone.
   "I don't give a darn how good your quarterback is if you don't have receivers," Campbell said. "We've got several people who can catch the ball, and we've got a guy who can throw it. If we've got enough sense to get them in the right place and we're able to have time to throw it, there might be some completions."
   The senior trio of tailback Michael Peterson -- the 'Dogs' leading rusher and receiver the last two seasons -- tight-end Josh Nave (10 receptions, 159 yards in '01) and flanker Corey McKinney (8-61 in '01) returns proven ability to the pass-catching department, and Eric Swain might be set for a breakout year.
   Add Dustin Crumley and Kevin Harrison to the mix, and the 'Dogs field a bevy of players for Morton to hone in on.
   "Everybody that's out there can catch it," Morton said. "Hopefully, we can go out and show people that we can throw the football."
   With his trigger finger ready to go to work, Morton certainly appears poised to help the 'Dogs get the job done.
   Knowing that people will be expecting a lot out of him, he doesn't shy away from that kind of pressure.
   "It doesn't bother me," Morton said, "but I don't want to let them down. It's a lot of pressure, but I'm going to try to fulfill every bit of those expectations that I can."