John Konecki first noticed Nyles Morgan during a postseason practice in 2010.
Then the offensive coordinator at Crete-Monee, Konecki lined up to demonstrate a blocking technique against the scout team defense. Morgan, a freshman brought up to varsity for the playoffs, charged into the line at quarter speed. Konecki shot both hands into Morgan’s pads before slowly and silently returning to an observational post behind the offensive huddle.
Konecki stayed quiet, but he was hurting after underestimating the solid build on Morgan.
“I was in a lot of pain in both of my shoulders,” Konecki said. “I felt like I had just hit a league ball with a metal bat wearing no gloves on a cold day.”
Konecki, named the head coach at Crete-Monee before this season, certainly wasn’t the last to feel Morgan's sting.
At the end of his freshman year, few knew Morgan as an immovable force. By the end of his sophomore season, the southeast suburbs had learned that Morgan would be a nuisance for two more seasons.
By the end of his junior season, he showed the entire state what he could do as the Warriors capped an undefeated season and won the Class 6A state championship, his forced fumble turning the momentum of the game.
Now everyone knows him — from reigning Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel to Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch to fans he’s never met from the 40 colleges recruiting him.
For his brilliant senior season and shining high school career, the standout Crete senior linebacker has been selected all-state and selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Jan. 4, 2014 in San Antonio. Now he can add a second consecutive Times Defensive Player of the Year honor to his awards haul.
“It’s amazing, when you invest in what you believe in, how realistic your dreams can become when your work ethic begins to match your ambitions,” Morgan said.
A three-year starter that went 40-2, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Morgan in his senior season had 100 tackles (12 for loss), two sacks, two forced fumbles, three knockdowns and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown in a playoff game against Providence.
“He’s a super fast player,” Konecki said. “It’s very unique for a guy his size to run like he does and drop the hammer like he does when it comes to hitting people. He’s really the linchpin of that defense.”
With Konecki moving from offensive coordinator to head coach, replacing Jerry Verde, the Warriors switched from a 4-4 defense to a 4-3, allowing Morgan to be more of a true middle linebacker.
A bit of recognition Morgan received was Konecki’s admission that the freshman year hit was a jarring reminder of how good he’d probably be. Konecki waited until Morgan was a junior to tell him.
“I was confused for two years because he didn’t tell me anything that day,” Morgan said. “At the time I was a practice dummy, and he tried to demonstrate (blocking) on me. He didn’t say anything and just walked back toward the huddle.”
An eloquent speaker with a heavy focus on academics, Morgan plans to choose a major college football team during the lead-up to the Army All-American game in San Antonio.
This summer started the tidal wave of recognition. He flew to Oregon as a guest at Nike’s elite football talent event called The Opening. Seven-on-seven scrimmages, skills competitions and early looks at new Nike apparel were part of the event, but Morgan also hobnobbed with Bo Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and Johnny Manziel among others. Morgan even has Manziel’s number in his phone.
College visits followed The Opening, and representatives from the U.S. Army All-American Bowl came to Crete-Monee to present him with his jersey for the East squad in the event, No. 14, in the middle of the season at a news conference.
In the summer Morgan had to change his phone number. He has four huge boxes filled with recruiting letters, and his social media profiles are inundated. Several months ago fans from several colleges got into an argument that mentioned Morgan’s Twitter name over and over for three straight days.
“I wasn’t saying anything, but I can’t help that people are tagging me in their tweets,” Morgan said. “A lot of kids would kill for this opportunity. The key is to stay humble and keep working hard.”
He’s made a rash of unofficial visits to courting campuses and official visits to Ole Miss, where former teammate Laquon Treadwell plays, Florida and Notre Dame.
Although his dad, Crete resident and Bloom grad Thomas Morgan, played college football at Western Illinois and a little semi-pro football, Nyles was overwhelmed by the national attention.
For a long time he was, in his mind, just a kid who grew up with his mom in Gary and went to elementary school in Merrillville before moving to Crete with his dad around fourth grade.
He played baseball for 10 years. One day his dad drove him past a football practice and young Nyles knew what he wanted to play.
“He has not let it go to his head,” Konecki said. “He’s still the kid I blocked in that freshman year practice. He’s still exuberant. He still wants to get better at everything.”