LOS ANGELES — During spring drills, USC head coach Lane Kiffin mentioned how he and the Trojans track coaches believed sophomore running back D.J. Morgan was beginning to regain trust in his right knee.
As the spring played itself out for the Trojans, it was Morgan who was one of the few bright spots offensively in the spring game, scoring on a 47-yard run.
Morgan then hit the track for the Trojans, competing in the 110-meter hurdles. It was a major stepping-stone in his recovery.
During his senior year at Taft High School, he suffered a torn ACL and a partial meniscus tear in his right knee, effectively ending his high school career on the football field and on the track where he was a world youth champion in the 110 hurdles.
Morgan ran in the 110 hurdles at the Pac-12 Championships last month. In his first heat at the conference championships, he finished in 14.48 seconds in his first competition since his junior year in high school. The time was good enough to reach the finals, where he placed fifth in 14.21.
“It’s just a sign of me getting my athleticism back,” Morgan said. “I’ve been an athlete my whole life, running track and football. I feel like for me to get back to what I used to be capable of doing, I had to get back to what I used to do, which is track and football.”
On the gridiron, he was one of three healthy scholarship tailbacks that ended the spring. Last season, he started the first two games for the Trojans as a redshirt freshman, including an 18-carry, 70-yard performance in the opener against Minnesota.
He quickly lost his starting role, however, because of ball security issues. By the time the Trojans reached the third game of the season, against Syracuse, Morgan was out of the starting lineup and had just one carry, which he fumbled. It became a theme for the season and made his goals for 2012 pretty simple.
“I don’t want to have any fumbles,” Morgan said.
Ball security was a point of emphasis during the spring and has continued into the Trojans’ players-only summer workouts.
After losing his starting job after just two weeks, he finished third on the team in rushing, totaling 42 carries for 163 yards, and was unable to surpass Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler on the depth chart in 2011. After his demotion, he carried the ball more than three times in a game just once.
“It was tough, but I was young,” Morgan said. “At first it hurt me, but I just took it as a learning experience and now I hope that it doesn’t happen again.”
Admittedly, in addition to the fumbles, Morgan says he didn’t have confidence in his surgically repaired right knee. Now he does.
“I feel good,” he said. “My leg was bothering me before. I wasn’t that confident in it. Now, I’m getting my confidence back and I feel like I can do everything I could do before the injury.”