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Sunday Conversation: Montana Tech football coach Chuck Morrell discusses growing youth sports movement

Posted: 4:00 PM, Dec 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-28 19:36:25-05

BUTTE — Chuck Morrell has been the head football coach at Montana Tech for the past eight seasons, compiling a 46-40 overall record, including back-to-back 10-2 seasons in 2015 and 2016. Morrell has been the Frontier Conference coach of the year and has coached numerous all-Americans.

Morrell recently spoke with MTN Sports about his thoughts on the growing number of parents spending large amounts of time and money on their children’s youth sports, and how that shapes the athletes college coaches like himself recruit at the high school level.

MTN Sports: Personal stance on what you look for when you recruit, and parents spending large amounts of money to make their kids the best they can be?

Chuck Morrell: “I think in terms of the kids we recruit, the No. 1 thing I want to see is a multi-sport athlete. I think there’s a lot of opportunities throughout the grade schools and junior high and high school teams to provide these guys with a lot of opportunities to participate in multiple sports. In terms of the summer camps, I think summer camps can be important, but that’s not what I solely base our evaluations off of. My recommendations are going to come primarily from the high school coach or high school coaches, their teammates, the people they’ve been around the most as a part of a team setting. In the camp setting it’s an opportunity for us to look at the kids a little bit closer, where we’re not seeing them compete in an 11-on-11 situation.”

MTN Sports: When you see a kid, if he’s gone through these elite training programs, he’s been in travel leagues and all these prospect camps, how does that affect your decision? Whether maybe he’s a multi-sport athlete, but he’s doing all these elite camps, what does that make you process?

Morrell: “In terms of the elite camps, there are so many different versions of it out there these days, especially even throughout the area here in Montana, there’s a lot of opportunities for kids to go out and be in camps. The one thing I look at is if a student-athlete has been heavily involved in that for a number of years and has trained, I don’t want to necessarily say excessively, but has trained at a peak level for a long time. The one thing that tells me what that student is at that time is they’re a lot closer to their ceiling. That’s why, for me personally, I like the guys who are not on those circuits all the time, and maybe guys who have been multi-sport athletes from small towns, because I know I have an opportunity to develop and shape them into the athlete I want them to become. There’s certainly positives and negatives to either side of it, but certainly a guy who’s been on the camp circuit for several years is a lot closer to his max potential.”

MTN Sports: And so kind of spinning off that, whether it’s someone you’re recruiting or in general for any athlete, what does it mean for a kid or athlete who can’t afford all those camps? What exactly do they have to do or what can separate them from those kids who get better opportunities?

Morrell: “The one thing I do want to point out is that this is the great thing about the state of Montana. In our our state there are seven universities that have college football. Actually, for a population based in the state of just over a million people, that’s highly unusual. You’ll go through a much more vastly populated states and have way fewer opportunities for kids, and so the one thing I would say in terms of specifically football and other sports in the state is, if you truly want to play you’re going to get an opportunity. The relationship between the college coaches in Montana and the high school coaches in Montana is very strong. So again, I’m going to go back into the coach recommendation. We’re going to go see every high school coach in the state, and I think in our state it’s very hard to get completely missed. Now, that may not be true in more heavily populated states in our surrounding areas.”

MTN Sports: What do you do for a kid who maybe as you’re recruiting has that good coach recommendation, but you see he’s been on this circuit and his parents have been spending money to give him opportunities? As a coach, where do you draw the line as if maybe this kid has done a little bit too much and you’re worried about what he brings to the table in terms of his overall confidence?

Morrell: “I think the thing that happens to everybody, no matter what the context, whether we’ve seen him at a lot of camps or not, every student-athlete when they step on a college campus is going to go through a very similar experience, meaning you’re the low man on the totem pole. You got to climb your way up, nothing is going to be handed to you, you have to work for everything. What it really boils down to me is raw, blue-collar work ethic. And I don’t want to set it as kids who are at camps a lot don’t have that type of work ethic, but the normal kids who don’t have those opportunities can have that kind of work ethic. In terms of me drawing a line, for us it’s always going to be find the best student-athlete, is great in the classroom, has high character, and that’s going to be the overriding factor for us.”

MTN Sports: Do you feel like coaches should have a responsibility to give those kids who can’t afford better playing opportunities the same chances as kids who are on these elite teams and training camps.?

Morrell: “Absolutely. I mean, at the end of the day our job as college coaches, especially in the football realm of things, is to win games. I often tell my guys all the time, ‘I don’t care if you played 6-Man football, I don’t care if you played football at the highest level in California. That’s irrelevant to me, because at our place the best man is going to play.’ And so I look at the core context of the team we have now, I’ve got a ton of 8-Man guys and guys from small towns that have turned into elite all-conference performers. It doesn’t matter to me where you come from. It’s just that you meet our certain standards, our metrics and if you do that, then you can be a part of our team and help us be successful. “

MTN Sports: Do you feel like these kids who don’t have opportunities to play at expensive camps, do you feel like in your experience in your time coaching here, do they come in with that chip on their shoulder, grit, hard-working attitude?

Morrell: “I don’t think hard work is defined by where you come from, but I also know there’s a history, with all the Class C guys playing for us, they come from a very similar mold — a lot of ranch families, very hard-working, blue-collar in their mentality, a willingness to be a part of a team, be a part of a family, and that’s a very common thread that runs through those guys. And in the end, that’s why I think they end up being very successful college football players.”

MTN Sports: So here at Montana Tech, a perfect example is someone like Connor Wines, one of your best overall players on the team. He’s a blue-collar, ranching guy, came in here and does absolutely good for you guys. So do you have a little bit of a pipeline? I know you’re a Montana school and a lot of Montana schools like to get kids from the state. For you, is that the kind of athlete or the kind of person you want to bring into your program?

Morrell: “It has everything to do with character and background. It’s really important to me and, like I said, in those smaller communities, kids that are coming off a ranch or a farming situation, those kids know how to work. It’s been instilled in their family for generations. And I look at the context of what we’ve had here, Connor Wines turned into an elite outside linebacker. Our all-time leading rusher here, Pat Hansen from Ekalaka, Montana, came off a ranch family. Justin May, our free safety, is from (Chester-Joplin-Inverness), incredible work ethic and is a very good football player. We have a history of that, and it’s helped us be successful here at Montana Tech.”

MTN Sports: What do you say to those parents who want to go out and spend that kind of money, only to be compared very similarly to someone who can’t do that?

Morrell: “First and foremost is honesty, being upfront about what our evaluation is, and two things I say: One is, your film is your resume, and then your academic transcript is your resume. We’re going to dig into your resume. What does your high school film show? What does your academic performance in the classroom look like? And those two things are what we’re going to base a big chunk of our internal evaluation off of. I think it’s all right for parents to give their kids opportunities to go out, and I know parents really embrace the opportunity to go out and travel the region to get extra coaching, and I think that’s an opportunity for kids to go out and get coaching from different areas or to get some specialized work. But at the end of the day we’re going to follow a very specific formula of what’s going to be successful for us.”

MTN Sports: Do you think this hurts high school sports, which in turn would affect the way you have to go out and recruit?

Morrell: “I think the one key in the unfortunate area that is associated with with it is that kids are becoming specialists in just one sport. That’s where I see the impact in some of the high schools where you used to have a very diverse group of kids that would come out and participate in every sport. I think you look around our state at the smaller high schools where they’re very successful in several sports, because the same kids go out for all the sports. So from that perspective I think it does hurt some of the participation numbers and it doesn’t make you as well-rounded in an athletic department in a high school. I think kids get a little pigeon-holed in terms of they’re only going to play this spot, and they’re going to only play one sport. Certainly I think that can be a detriment to the high school. Like I said, for us at the end of the day we’re going to do our evaluations off of what we need to get.”

MTN Sports: Do you think high schools should implement rules resolving big money being spent on youth sports, which in turn would affect the college level?

Morrell: “The thing I’d always say, at the end of the day you can spend all the money and resources you want, but at the end of the day that’s not going to guarantee your son or daughter a college scholarship or guarantee them an opportunity. The overriding thing I’d say is, expose your kids to as many different opportunities athletically as you can. In terms of the High School Association making a decision in terms of restrictions, I think that’s very challenging, very difficult. It’s a trend that’s only going to continue. The thing I would make parents aware of, it’s not necessarily going to create an anticipated outcome.”

MTN Sports: And my last thing is, do you have any final thoughts you want to add about this?

Morrell: “It’s certainly a big thing. I see it with my own kids, I see my own daughter playing travel sports now. And the one thing is it’s certainly time-consuming, and for me I want to make sure I get plenty of time of fishing and camping and spending quality time with my kids outside the realm of sports, and it definitely has an impact, there’s no doubt about that.”

MTN Sports: How important do you think that is?

Morrell: “I think it’s critical. We’re always looking for well-rounded individuals, well-rounded human beings. I mean, there’s so much more depth to a person than just playing a sport. It’s about what your character is, how much you care about people around you. Do you understand being a part of a family? I think a lot of those life experiences certainly come into play when they arrive on our campus.”