UBC's Alex Morrison started off the 2017 season Wednesday with six catches in a win over Alberta. (Richard Lam/UBC athletics)
Feature University Football

UBC’s Alex Morrison returns to ‘Birds for football ‘finishing school’, new tight end gig preps him for CFL future

VANCOUVER — UBC’s Alex Morrison may not have made the final cut with the Montreal Alouettes this past June, but he’s determined to make the CFL his future, and the big man in his corner back home at Thunderbird Stadium is doing everything he can to help ensure that happens.

To that end, ‘Birds head coach Blake Nill describes the curious move this off-season of the standout wide receiver to tight end in a number of UBC’s offensive looks.

“I don’t get a lot of fifth-year guys back,” admitted Nill of Morrison, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound fourth-round pick of the Als this past spring. “They are either in the pros or they have been weaned out of a (university) program.

“He was a little cautious about this at first so I told Alex ‘You come in and play tight end for us because in order for to be a pro in the CFL, you have to show you can play special teams and that you can be a good back-up,’” said Nill. “You cut your teeth that way.”

Morrison, who broke his arm two games into last season but still owned a resume impressive enough to earn a free agent look from the NFL’s New York Giants, and later have his named called by Montreal, was used largely as a wideout in the ‘Birds 33-30 preseason win in Kamloops last Wednesday over Alberta.

In that game, he caught six passes for 52 yards as part of quarterback Michael O’Connor’s primary group of pass catchers.

Yet in some instances he hugged tight in the alignment with his offensive line, and showed the progress he is making in the trenches.

UBC receiver Alex Morrison brings sure-handed play, size and speed to the Thunderbirds’ receiving corps. (Bob Frid, UBC athletics)

“It’s been good,” said Morrison, who leads his team into the Canada West regular season opener this Friday ( 6 p.m.) in Regina against the Rams. “One of the new things with our offence is utilizing mismatches in our screen game. One of our packages has me as a tight end, just being able to exploit linebackers and create more mismatches for myself and other players, too. It’s going to give our offence more versatility and provide just another threat for our opposition to prepare for.”

Morrison hardly looked out of place in the CFL, and could well have contributed this season. Nill is taking advantage of the teaching moments to make Morrison the best possible version of himself for a lone CFL career.

UBC head coach Blake Nill sees nothing but positives in having fifth-year receiver Alex Morrison prep for the CFL with reps as a tight end. (Richard Lam/UBC athletics)

“The physical element of playing that position will not only give Alex that experience (for the CFL), but also give us an advantage because a lot of teams (aren’t accustomed) to tight ends, and a lot of teams don’t compete against one who is 6-4 and runs a 4.6 (40-yard dash),” said Nill, a former CFL defensive lineman who played four seasons in Montreal when they were known as the Concordes.

“So I want Alex to thrive with this role, and I want him to show us that we can’t keep him off the field in that role,” Nill added. “I think we’re all going to see the fruits of this.”

Getting Morrison back for a fifth year, when the likes of Trivel Pinto and Will Watson are also back, gives UBC a passing-catching cadre that could be the best in the nation. Now, the big, physical and experienced Morrison is getting even better, making the most of this fifth year of so-called football finishing school.

“It’s a more physical position, so when I’m not split out wide, it is going to be something that improves my blocking and gives me the added experience of running routes from a different position,” the Sault St. Marie said of the tight end spot. “It’s something I am getting excited about and something I hope our team can have a lot of success with.”

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