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From Kentucky to Minnesota: Gophers QB Tanner Morgan’s first love was


(originally posted on

by: Daniel House

A nine-year-old quarterback rolled out of the pocket and surveyed his options. With less than a
minute remaining in the semifinal game, his team needed a score to win. It was finally time to
overcome all of the pressure and punch a ticket to the “Super Bowl.” Tanner Morgan escaped
the pocket and fired a pass downfield. The defensive back pulled forward and Morgan’s throw
whizzed into the arms of his wide receiver for a game-winning touchdown.

Even at a young age, the fiery Kentucky quarterback was never afraid of big moments. After
getting in the car, Tanner’s father, Ted Morgan, was ready for their annual postgame drive. This
time, Ted had to find out what Tanner saw when he rolled out of the pocket.

“On the way home, I just said, ‘that was a really nice pass.’ And he looked at me, and he said, ‘I
knew if I rolled out, the defender had to make a decision. If he stayed with the receiver, I would
run it in. If he came to me, I had my guy open, so I hit him,’” Ted Morgan said. “That’s kind of
when I knew that he was a little different than most 9-year-old kids.”

When Tanner was six years old, he walked into a huddle for the first time. Almost fifteen years
later, the ultra-competitive quarterback has never left the position.

Ted Morgan helped coach his son’s teams from sixth grade, until Tanner’s junior year in high
school. While in middle school, Tanner Morgan spent time studying coverages to better
understand defensive schemes. Ted said Tanner’s ability to diagnose and discover tendencies
started at a young age. He remembered a sixth grade game where Tanner invented his own
route. A simple vertical “go route” suddenly turned into an ultra-skinny post. When Morgan went
off script, the “slice route” was accidentally born.
“I’m like, ‘that was a great throw, but what was that?’ He goes, ‘the guy had outside leverage on
him and I just threw him open. I knew that there was nobody in the middle and I knew if I threw it
right there close enough, that my guy was going to grab it,’” Morgan’s father said. “We didn’t
even have that play. You can’t teach that, he just got that.”

The duo’s postgame drive always turned into a conversation about the game. However, every
time Ted mentioned any aspect of his son’s performance, Tanner always highlighted the
contributions of a teammate. Even if Morgan made a tremendous throw that night, another
player received credit.

“He never wanted to talk about himself, it was always other people,” Ted Morgan said. “Once a
week, he would take candy bars and Gatorades to his offensive linemen and hand them out.”

It was a small gesture to thank the players who protected him every week. Now, in college,
Morgan continues this tradition at the University of Minnesota. When his teammates least
expect it, the doorbell rings and warm cookies arrive at their doorstep.

“Today, he’s carried it on and every now and then he’ll get his offensive linemen Insomnia
Cookies,” Morgan’s father said. “Tanner will go out and pay for those guys’ cookies and have
them delivered.”

Morgan’s leadership skills and work ethic help him bring teams to uncharted territory. Prior to his
junior season, Tanner transferred to Ryle High School in Kentucky. He flipped the script of a
struggling football program and led the Raiders to 9-3 and 12-1 records. Morgan became one of
ten players in Kentucky football history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and 100
touchdowns. He accomplished this while playing within a high school offense featuring a 50-50
run-pass ratio.

Morgan’s football intelligence played a big role in his development, but mechanical
improvements changed everything. When he was 15 years old, Morgan was trained by former
East Carolina quarterback Paul Troth. Despite living eight hours apart, Morgan recorded videos
and sent them to Troth through an online “eCoach” platform. After reviewing the clips, Troth
would send breakdowns and feedback to Morgan and his father. Shortly after working with
Troth, Tanner earned his first offer from Wake Forest.

“That’s what really propelled Tanner to get his first offer. [It was] really because of working with
Paul on eCoach,” Ted Morgan said. “Tanner’s work ethic is a tremendous example of that. You
can give a kid a resource, but if they don’t put time into it and use it, it’s not doing them any

The Recruiting “Process”

The development of Tanner’s fundamentals helped him gain more interest from college
programs. Morgan didn’t take many college visits, but after speaking with P.J. Fleck and his
staff, he decided to make a midweek trip to Western Michigan. When Tanner and Ted pulled into
the football facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, they never expected to have any interest in the
“I remember when we got out of the car that morning, I looked at [Tanner], and I was like, ‘hey,
we’re just up here for a visit. Nothing is going to happen out of this today.’ He goes, ‘oh, I know,’”
Ted Morgan said.

Prior to taking college visits, the Morgan family defined a list of key characteristics they were
looking for in a football program. They called this “the process.”

Ted always remembered advice he received from former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer’s
assistant, Joey Roberts. Roberts told him, “Define what you’re looking for and when the school
matches that, and Tanner wants to be in that culture, that’s when it’s over.”

After Tanner and Ted Morgan walked into P.J. Fleck’s office, they immediately connected with
the staff’s vision. A routine trip turned into an unexpected event.

“They answered every question we had out of our process. I could see Tanner jumping out of
his chair. We committed,” Tanner’s father said. “My wife wasn’t with me. She got aggravated
and wouldn’t talk to us for two days — that’s a true story. So we had to go up the next weekend
and P.J. reenacted the commitment to take more pictures with my wife, Pat.”

Morgan’s Relentless Work Ethic

Before enrolling in school early, Morgan continued to work with his quarterback coaches and
attended an Elite 11 event in Atlanta. Ted said Tanner wanted to see how he stacked up against
the nation’s top quarterbacks. Out of 150 quarterbacks in attendance, Morgan was selected to
participate in the “Pressure Chamber” competition. He squared off with quarterbacks Trevor
Lawrence (Clemson), Chase Brice (Clemson), Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Jake Fromm

Morgan finished 3-for-5 and only held the ball for three seconds. None of the other top
quarterbacks completed more than three passes in the drill.

“There were kids with 30 offers that didn’t get to go to that. Tanner knew that he belonged and
that’s all he needed to see,” Morgan’s father said.

An Unexpected Twist

Nine months later, the recruiting process took another turn. P.J. Fleck was hired as the new
head coach at Minnesota. The next morning, Tanner’s phone lit up. Fleck was calling to tell
Morgan he wanted him to join his first Big Ten recruiting class.

“When you have somebody who you call within 24 hours and tell him you're reporting here in
like 18 hours and I just took a different job. I'm going to offer you to come to that place, and if
you'd like to, great. If you don't, that's fine too. Never see it. Never visit here. And then without
hesitation, said, ‘I'm in.’ I even said, you want to check with your parents? Do you want to tell
them where you're going? You want to know anything about Minnesota?” Gophers head coach
P.J. Fleck said. “I said, if you do, I can't help you because I don't know anything either. That's
faith. That's belief.”
Later in the day, Tanner was set to host his graduation party, but he managed to quickly modify
all of the desserts.

“We still had a Western Michigan cake and cookies, but we just turned ‘the W’ around to an ‘M’,”
Ted Morgan said. “And then, the next weekend, we drove into Minnesota. Me, my wife, or
Tanner, had never been to the state — that’s how all in we were.”

A few years later, Morgan is now the leader of an offense that is shattering school records.
Minnesota has started the season with an 8-0 record for the first time since 1941. After
becoming a starter last year, the Gophers’ quarterback has a 12-2 record and is thriving in
offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense.

The Coaches Behind Morgan’s Mechanics

Prior to the 2019 season, Minnesota’s quarterback continued improving his mechanics. This
spring, Morgan worked with quarterback coach Trenton Kirklin in Nashville.

During a pair of two-day sessions with Kirklin, the quarterback coach decided to video call one
of the top kinesiologists in the country, Rob Williams. The founder of SportCore, Williams
specializes in optimizing the movement skills of football players. Over the past six years, he has
started to narrow his focus to quarterback mechanics. Williams has worked with many Power
Five and NFL signal-callers to optimize their performance. He has also consulted with many
teams, including the New Orleans Saints. In March, Kirklin called Williams and conducted a
video session with Morgan.

“Right away, like the first words, you could tell, this is even when I’m doing a video call and
we’re in a big indoor turf facility. Right away, [Tanner was] engaged,” kinesiologist Rob Williams
said. “You could pick up fairly quickly that this is a good kid that’s very responsive, receptive and

While developing his SportCore system, Williams noticed many young quarterbacks weren’t
engaging 80 percent of their body, including the hips and core. He has found the biggest
challenge is teaching quarterbacks how to make their throwing motions compact and rotary.

“There’s been a lot of teaching from what I call a distal perspective, meaning the ends of the
body. So they’ve been coached — put your foot here, point your toe here, this hand goes here,
this hand goes there, fingertips on the ball, your elbow has to be here,” Williams said.

When Williams received his first set of photos from Morgan, he knew the quarterback’s throwing
motion needed to be more compact and efficient.

“In a couple of the images, you can see his front foot has reached way out in front of him and
his ball hand and the ball have dropped dramatically. And he slid his body forward, yet nothing
has happened at his hips and core yet,” Williams said.

When the kinesiologist evaluated video of Morgan’s mechanics, he noticed a variety of

“accessory movements” that didn’t benefit the throw.
“It’s a long, distal, sort of reach-and-slide, and the back leg swings around and swings through.
From a kinesiology perspective, none of those things actually help with what it is that he’s trying
to do, which is throw the football,” Williams said. “That’s mostly
what I spend my time doing with quarterbacks, is taking away all
of the extra movement that is inhibiting their performance.”

Williams provided feedback and Morgan spent the next few

months learning his techniques. Tanner would send progress
videos to keep him updated.

“There have only been a few guys I’ve worked with remotely that
have done this. He went away and took the tips,” Williams said.
“[It’s great] when you have an athlete who says, ok, I get it, this
makes sense to me. It’s not something that I’ve ever been taught
or learned before, but I can feel the difference, I’m going to run
with it. I handed him the tools and he ran with it.”

Two months after giving Morgan a list of techniques and training

methods, Williams started to see a big difference. When he
received a set of videos in May, he noticed Morgan’s motion
becoming compact and efficient.

“With Tanner, through the process, it was probably around May

where he was throwing some balls in their indoor facility. It was
just, ok, now things are changing,” Williams said. “Now you’re
starting to be what I call a rotary athlete, rather than a linear

The Gophers’ quarterback quickly applied all of the new movement skills in Minnesota’s offense.
Through eight games, Morgan is 113-for-173 with 1,761 yards, 18 touchdowns and four
interceptions. He has completed 65 percent of his passes, while orchestrating the seventh-most
efficient passing offense in the country, according to College Football Data. When Williams has
fired up Morgan’s film, he notices the benefits of Tanner becoming a “rotary athlete.”

“Now, when he’s moving around in the pocket and it’s time to release the ball or launch the ball,
he now moves like he’s loaded and ready to launch. When he launches, the release time is
dramatically reduced from first forward motion in the initiation of a launch sequence,” Williams
said. “He’s basically going through his reads and progressions, and when he decides it’s time to
release the ball, it’s a rotary snap, and the ball is out. The arm action is way smaller and tighter.
There’s no big long reach of his front foot, which was very, very prominent with him. His hips are
sort of the driver of throw. So what ends up happening, is you see the quarterback snap, the ball
is out, and the quarterback almost looks like they didn’t move in the pocket.”

Williams doesn’t call himself a quarterback coach. He isn’t studying any of Tanner’s reads or
progressions. His goal is to optimize Morgan’s movements and diagnose why a certain throw
wasn’t mechanically effective. After watching several of Tanner’s game highlights and videos,
Williams has noticed Morgan’s tremendous improvement.
“I’ll jump on and look for the highlights from the previous game. [I’ll say] these four throws were
compact, rotary and clean. These two throws, he came apart, he fell off axis. There’s a bunch of
things that show up and with the system I’ve developed, but there’s always an answer. There’s
always a reason why he overthrew on this one, or he fell out on this one, or there was a big leg
swing here, or his arm slashed there, or he missed high here,” Williams said.

“Most of the time it comes down to the initiation strategy — what he did at the start of the
movement. Whether or not he was in his hips and fired his hips, versus it came from his arm or
his foot, that type of thing.”

Although they have never met in-person, Rob Williams has shaped Tanner Morgan’s movement
skills and performance from afar. Now, Morgan is one of college football’s most efficient

“Tanner is a kid I’ve never even seen face-to-face. He’s had a significant change in his throwing
mechanics and his performance. I’m not saying that’s all me, it’s all him — he’s done the work,”
Williams said. “It’s and example of what’s possible if you start to feed guys the right tools.”

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