CARLSBAD — Following his sophomore season at Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, Caleb Morris said he realized something: He was holding himself back from being the player he could be.
Morris, 18, was not a bad player. As a 10th grader, he averaged 6.6 points per game on a team that won a CIF Division 4 title. But at 220 pounds, his weight kept him from unlocking his true potential.
“It was tough because I was the person holding me back from doing what I wanted to do,” a candid Morris said Wednesday. “If I wanted to keep playing, I had to change some things. It just pushed me to do what I love.”
Flash forward to Tuesday, and Morris — now a svelte 190 pounds — achieved his lifelong dream and signed to play Division 1 basketball for the Air Force Academy. He signed shortly after being offered by the Falcons, who began recruiting him during his strong senior campaign, during which he averaged a team-high 17.1 points per game for the Warriors, who advanced to the state regional semifinals.
“This is such a tremendous moment for our program,” said Tim Cook, who served as assistant coach this season. “Caleb is a great kid, and has been a great example for his teammates. This couldn’t have happened to a better kid.”
Morris becomes the eighth North County basketball player to sign to play college basketball and the sixth to sign to a Division 1 university. La Costa Canyon seniors Tommy McCarthy, Travis Fuller and Brady Twombly signed to Harvard, Brown and Northern Arizona universities, respectively; Poway guard Dalton Soffer signed to play for Seton Hall University, and Escondido’s Khy Kabellis signed to play at North Dakota State.
Jack Langborg of Santa Fe Christian signed to play at Point Loma Nazarene University and El Camino senior Sam Bockman has committed to playing basketball at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As a sophomore, many scouts had Morris pegged as an undersized power forward who would have to make major strides in his conditioning to even play at the Division 2 level.
Morris credits that summer between his sophomore and junior year, and former Army Navy point guard Devin Watson, who is now a freshman standout at the University of San Francisco, for helping him make the changes needed to achieve his goal.
“Devin is the hardest working basketball player I have ever seen,” Morris said. “He would work out after practice wearing a weighted vest, and do cone drills, and he would always ask me to do it, and I did it a couple of times,” Morris said. “After a while though, I just couldn’t say no, because it made me want to work.
“That summer, I got in the gym with Devin and Coach Sam (Eshelman, a former Army Navy assistant and former head coach at Sage Creek High School), and we really went at it over the summer,” Morris said. “We worked out every day, and I slept a lot. And I changed my diet as well.”
He also credits his family for never losing faith in his dream.
“They have always been right there behind me,” Morris said of his family. “Their confidence in me and the sacrifices they made on my behalf really kept me working towards this goal.”
Morris, who is known for his sweet shooting stroke, returned to school his junior year 20 pounds lighter and assumed the role of leader on a very young Warriors team, leading them to a better-than-expected 6-4 record in the Coastal League before bowing out of the playoffs in the first round.
That summer, Morris, who played for the travel team Gamepoint, had a strong spring and summer, but found had only garnered interest from a couple of Division 2 colleges, including Point Loma and University of Mary in North Dakota.
During his senior year, Morris said he focused on become a more diverse player, improving his lateral quickness to allow him to defend opposing guards, and becoming a more assertive rebounder, traits that would help improve his stock with colleges.
While his scoring was down from the previous year, all of his other major statistics — rebounds, assists, steals and blocks — improved.
As a result, college interest began to pick up. Air Force began attending his games and workouts, and other major NAIA and Division 2 programs also began to recruit him.
But when Air Force offered, he said, he couldn’t turn down the chance to play basketball at its highest level.
“I think every kid who plays basketball dreams of playing D1 ball,” Morris said. “So I couldn’t pass on the opportunity.”
Morris said that attending Army Navy should help smooth the transition to Navy and the military.
“It’s going to make the transition a lot easier,” Morris said. “When I was on my official visit, I saw them marching, and while I don’t know all of the steps, I have a pretty good gist of what is going on. Army Navy is a good steppingstone going into the Air Force.”
Morris said he understands that he has much work to do ahead of him, but looks forward to the challenge. The game he looks most forward to?
“San Diego State, that is easy,” Morris said. “I get to come back home and play against one of the best teams in the nation. That is a huge plus right there.”