Written alongside linebacker in the social media profile of Arkansas Razorback Grant Morgan sits a Bible passage. 2 Chronicles 15:7. The verse reads “be strong and courageous for your work will be rewarded.” It’s no coincidence that Morgan adorns his profile with this particular verse. His journey from walk-on to 2022 NFL Draft prospect epitomizes that message. Morgan is a walking advertisement for hard work and self-belief overcoming not only self-doubt, but the doubt of others to achieve success.
From walk-on to NFL Draft prospect, Grant Morgan epitomizes the triumph of hard work
When he got beat up by the older kids that he played football with in his hometown of Greenwood, Arkansas, Morgan dusted himself down and got back up. When he was told he was too small, he played bigger and stronger than his size. Despite a successful high school career, when he received no Division 1 offers to play defense, Morgan walked on at Arkansas. If he allowed self-doubt to creep in at any point, self-confidence defeated it.
Morgan has made a living out of betting on himself. Fueled by faith, surrounded by family, his journey to the NFL Draft has been one of hard work, of challenging the doubt of others, of believing that he could be the best when others didn’t. At the conclusion of his Arkansas career, that hard work was rewarded as the recipient of the 2021 Burlsworth Trophy as the best former walk-on in college football.
“Walk-ons are so unique, in my opinion,” Morgan tells Pro Football Network. “They’re giving everything they have to be a part of a team, to prove themselves right or to prove that they belong. To be able to win that award, to be a representative for every walk-on across the nation that shows that everybody can do it, I wanted to be that, for everybody.
“I want every little kid to be able to say ‘I want to be like Grant Morgan.’ I don’t have any secret formula on how I got to win the Burlsworth. Just went to work, believed in myself. My favorite quote that I live on is ‘Your self-confidence has to overpower your self-doubt.’ Self-doubt is in everybody. If your self-confidence is greater that your self-doubt, you’ll be ok. And, that’s exactly what the Burlsworth is all about.”
Morgan enjoying the fruits of hard work
The Burlsworth Trophy is the icing on the cake of a successful Arkansas career that few would have thought probable on Morgan’s arrival in 2016. He’s earned All-American accolades, All-Conference honors, and tied the lead for the most tackles per game in the nation. They’re accolades that paint the picture of footballing success, but don’t necessarily tell the story of the stages that led to them. Stages like earning a full scholarship two years after his arrival in Fayetteville.
“Having a coach believe in me and say, ‘Listen, you’re going to to be on a full scholarship,’ especially coming from being a walk-on and not having any offers, it just meant a lot. It meant so much to me and my family. Just because it was somebody who believed in me, someone who wanted me to be there. I was really appreciative of Coach Bielema and Coach Morris who did that for me.”
For a player who battled to overcome other people’s lack of belief in him, Morgan’s work was rewarded in 2020 with the ultimate representation of earning the trust of the people around him.
“Being a captain there, I would say that was the most prestigious honor I’ve ever received. For me to be able to earn the respect of everybody on the team, says more about a person than anything. To be able to say I had 119 guys believe in me, to be the leader of their team, that means so much.”
The hard work that led Morgan to the 2022 NFL Draft
Greenwood lies some 70 miles south of Fayetteville — where Morgan has made his home for the past six years — and where he’s made a lasting impression on the Arkansas football program. The program was already familiar with the Morgan family name. Drew Morgan was a productive wide receiver for the Razorbacks. Grant and Drew grew up in Greenwood, the Morgan family hometown, where the younger brother learned quickly that hard work and self-belief would be his calling card.
“I had to play up on my brother’s age group at football,” Morgan says. “I was the youngest, the smallest. A kindergartener on a third-grade football team. I was getting tackled and getting beat up every single day. It was the challenge that I loved. I loved the challenge of wanting to beat the people in front of me. No matter whether it was tackling them, or running them down.
“I loved the challenge and that’s exactly what I loved as I got older. Loved playing people better than me because it showed that I had work to be done. Throughout high school, it really solidified that I wasn’t the best, that I needed to get a lot more work done. There’s a little part inside of me that says ‘Hey, you’re not the best but go prove that you are the best. Don’t let anyone tell you any other than that.’”
As Drew established himself at Arkansas, Grant learned lessons from his older brother. He talks passionately about how the older Morgan taught him how “to lead with tenacity, lead with bravery” and that “you can be a leader and still be liked by people. You don’t got to be somebody that people don’t like to be around.”
“I actually thought I was going to be Michael Vick,” Morgan laughs as we talk about his early football influences. However, Ray Lewis and Luke Kuechly appear to be better fits for the physical linebacker prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. While praising Kuechly as “one of the best in the game” and saying he’s “known for his intelligence,” Morgan’s experience as a wide receiver at Greenwood actually help develop his own exceptional football IQ.
“I think you can use any type of edge that you gain from a past experience. The number one thing I learned from John Chavis was learn the concepts rather than learn a certain aspect of what the offense does. When you learn concepts, especially as a receiver, you always learned that if there’s a low route, there’s going to be a high route. Or, if there’s one going out, there’s one coming in.
“When you get the concepts of football as an offensive mind, when you then play defense it makes the offense that you’re going up against so much easier. That’s what I carried from high school. It made it so much clearer and really rang a bell for me.”
It certainly made it easier at the high school level. During his senior season for Greenwood, Morgan was a dominating force at the heart of the defense. Tallying 149 tackles that included 25 for loss, 3 sacks, and 4 pass breakups, Morgan was named the 2015 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Defensive Player of the Year and Southwest Times Record Player of the Year. However, he’d still have to overcome a lack of belief in his journey.
Under-recruited, Morgan battles his way to success
Despite the honors and accolades in his high school career, Morgan was under-recruited. His only offer to play D1 football as a scholar-athlete came from Navy, which wanted him to play fullback in their triple-option offense. Having been successful, it was a confusing time that could have buried his will. Instead, he used it as fuel.
“I didn’t have any offers,” Morgan says. “No big schools calling me. No D1, Power Five, nothing. I had some Division II schools that said ‘Hey, you can come play here.’ So, I used that for fuel, I said ‘listen, I’m an All-State player, there’s guys that I beat out for this award that have gotten offers to bigger schools. I don’t understand why I’m not getting those.’”
Although there weren’t offers, it didn’t mean there wasn’t any interest. He’d eventually end up on full scholarship with Arkansas. But in 2016, they weren’t prepared to extend an offer. As Morgan explains, the process ended up being mutually beneficial for both.
“They thought they could get me as a walk-on and not waste a scholarship place on me. It worked for them. They didn’t have to waste a scholarship on me. And I wanted to go there and prove everyone wrong, including them. I took it personal though, as it was like someone saying I wasn’t good enough to play there. It worked out for both us.”
Morgan used his redshirt season to assert his belief in himself
Like a lot of college freshmen, especially as a walk-on, Morgan redshirted his first season with Arkansas. The experience further developed his hard work philosophy. Additionally, he understood that the stage was set for him to achieve greatness when presented with the opportunity.
“That first year made me realize what sort of player I could be in the future,” he reflects. “I remember sitting in the locker room, even in the practices, watching guys like Brooks Ellis, Dre Greenlaw, Scooter Harris, guys that played in the league, thinking ‘I can do this. I can [do] what they’re doing, do it at their level.’ That’s what I set my mind for.
“It helped me through that year I didn’t play. It’s hard not playing a football season when you’ve played for so long. But, it made me become more of a man, made me work harder. Because, once again, it was like ‘I’m not good enough to play now I guess. So am I just going to sit here and wait or am I going to go get it and make sure when it comes I’m ready?’”
The opportunity came in 2017, and when it did, Morgan was ready. After making his debut against Florida A&M, the Arkansas linebacker played in all 12 games that season. The doubters were wrong. The people who’d overlooked him out of Greenwood were wrong. “This guy is good,” Morgan recalls the reaction to his performances. “This kid can play, and he’s going to play for a long time.”
From Arkansas to attracting national attention in the NFL Draft process
“He’s going to play a long time.” It wouldn’t be the last time that Morgan would hear those words during his journey to the NFL Draft. Following a successful career at Arkansas, culminating in the Burlsworth Award, the physical linebacker earned an invite to the NFLPA Bowl. There, he’d hear those words again. This time, they came from a notoriously physical linebacker, one he’d watched growing up — Vontaze Burfict.
“He called me one of the nights and just said ‘I believe in you. I love that you believe in you a lot. Your confidence in yourself is amazing. Keep that. You’ll be alright. You’re going to play long.’
“Everything that Coach [Rod] Woodson and Vontaze kept saying was, ‘smart players play longer than you think. Smart players play the longest.’ That’s exactly what I did. I learn the playbook better than anybody. That’s why I’ve been successful. The strength of my football game is my knowledge. Being able to hear that smart players play the longest is exciting. It’s a challenge, but it’s exciting.”
If people ever doubted that Morgan could go against the best and succeed, he feels like he proved that he could at the NFLPA Bowl. Starting at the MIKE linebacker spot for the National Team, he tallied 4 tackles including a half tackle for loss. As he argues, playing in the SEC for Arkansas “I’ve played against NFL guys every week, why can’t I go and play with anybody else?”
A physical linebacker and a man of faith, Morgan is ready for more
“Be strong and courageous for your work will be rewarded.” Morgan is a man of faith who has been guided by those words. He is a family man, who accepted 119 brothers into his heart and home at Arkansas. Furthermore, he’s an example of what can be accomplished when self-confidence overcomes self-doubt and the doubt of others.
Morgan is also a man who knows that his work is not yet done regardless of what happens in the 2022 NFL Draft. As he points out being drafted “would mean everything that I’ve put in work into would have been successful. But it would also mean nothing because I know that there’s so much more than just being drafted.”
“I’m excited for it. I want my name to be called. I think it can be. But, here’s my thing. If you draft me first round or get me undrafted, with zero signing bonus, I’m going to give you the exact same thing. I’m going to go and prove myself every single day.”
His final thoughts on the NFL Draft process, of landing in the NFL, epitomize what has gotten him this far. Morgan knows that hard work can bring success, no matter what the level. “I’m going to go to work. That’s what I’ve been taught to do. That’s what’s been successful to me. I don’t know any secret sauce, or secret formula. I just know how to work.”