ATHENS – Marshall Morgan shook his head, gave a one-word answer – “No” – and looked down to make clear there would not be a second word. It was not something he wanted to talk about. It was not a question that was easily asked.
On Sept. 26 Morgan, Georgia’s senior kicker, was covering a kickoff when he collided with Southern player Devon Gales. Four days later Gales’ family, at a press conference, asked the public to pray for Morgan, as well as their own son, who had suffered a spinal injury and was unable to walk, at least for now.
Field goal kicking can be such a mental task, so it’s hard not to wonder about a connection between that event and Morgan’s kicking this season. A first-team All-SEC kicker two years ago and honorable mention last year, he hasn’t been as good this year, and has missed several chip-shot field goals.
Nobody blames Morgan for the play, especially Gales and his family. Morgan visited the hospital a couple days later, and met with Gales’ parents. Morgan gave Gales’ mom a hug, and talked hunting with his father.
“They were real nice people,” Morgan said. “They wanted to make sure they told me it wasn’t my fault. It’s football, it happens. It’s tragic.”
Morgan, who had made several big open-field tackles before the Southern game, has been credited with only one solo tackle since then. But that could just be a result of circumstance. Morgan said he hasn’t let it affect how he plays.
“I won’t just go hit someone to hit someone. But if the guy’s got the ball coming at me, I’m not gonna let him get past me,” Morgan said. “At least I’m gonna try not to let him get past me.”
As for the field goal kicking, there’s enough evidence – statistical and anecdotal – to believe Morgan.
It’s not just that Morgan has missed five field goals this season, as many as he missed all of last season, after missing just seven over the previous two seasons. It’s the type of field goals Morgan has missed: A 38-yarder last Saturday against Kentucky, a 26-yarder two games before against Missouri, a 41-yarder at Tennessee.
But other than the length of the misses, there’s not a noticeable difference before and after the Southern game. Through the Southern game, Morgan was 5-for-8 on the season, the misses coming from 37, 40 and 43 yards. Since then he’s 8-for-11.
“He just hasn’t been quite as consistent as I’ve seen him (in past years),” coach Mark Richt said. “But it hasn’t been a horrible year by any stretch. We just hope he finishes strong and those percentages go up.”
Morgan doesn’t have an explanation for the short misses this year. There’s nothing mechanically or mental, as far as he can tell.
“I couldn’t tell you my stats from this whole year. I just know this last game I was 2-for-3,” he said. “After three or four games you kinda forget that and make sure you go 100 percent all of the time.”
There’s a fun-loving part of Morgan that makes it easy to believe he doesn’t dwell on bad things. He’s always been the player most likely to smile and say hello to reporters at practice. He joked that anytime he misses a field goal he avoids Twitter, “because you’ll get roasted.”
Life is good for him off the field as well. His parents moved from south Florida to Athens the summer of 2014. Madison Giddens, who Morgan has dated since they met as freshman at Georgia, was recently crowned Miss UGA.
“So, how does it feel to be dating one of the hottest girls at UGA?” Georgia defensive lineman Sterling Bailey asked Morgan this week, interrupting a media session.
“They already asked,” Morgan said to Bailey, laughing.
None of this is to say that Morgan doesn’t think about Gales, and what happened. He remembered it was Gales’ birthday this week, saying he planned to tweet him. Morgan is just obeying what he’s been told by everyone from friends to Gales’ parents: Don’t let it affect you.
“I feel terrible for the guy,” Morgan said. “Everyone’s pulling for him, just to see progress of him slowly doing better. Everybody’s praying for him. We still rock that 33 for him. I just hope he keeps getting well.”