2009-06-11 / Front Page

Islander wins national player of the year honor

By Adrienne Downing

Shortstop Ryan Morris directs a play during Sunday’s playoff game against Bishop Hendricken. Photo by David Zapatka Shortstop Ryan Morris directs a play during Sunday’s playoff game against Bishop Hendricken. Photo by David Zapatka Until two months ago, unless someone was involved with North Kingstown High School athletics or on one of the teams that played the Skippers, they were not familiar with islander Ryan Morris. But, in the last month, all of that has changed for the soft-spoken football and baseball player when he was named both the baseball Gatorade Player of the Year for Rhode Island and a finalist in the Cox Sports Awards.

The baseball Gatorade Player of the Year award is given annually to the best baseball player in Rhode Island and Morris is the first player from NK to win the honor since the award was established in 1985.

Gatorade award winners are selected on the basis of outstanding athletic excellence accompanied by high standards of academic achievement and exemplary personal character demonstrated on and off the field. The selection process is administered by ESPN RISE Magazine.

Morris was in good company among the nominees, with teammates and friends David D’Errico and Cody Normand also receiving nominations.

“It really caught me by surprise,” Morris said. “Dave and Cody are my best friends and really great players, so I was really surprised.”

One person who was not surprised by the award was Skippers head baseball coach Kevin Gormley. “I was thrilled that he got it. All three of those players are great kids and it would have been impossible for me to choose between them, but Ryan does not get the accolades that he deserves because he is such a quiet leader,” Gormley said.

Morris started playing baseball when he was 3 years old and his father, Dave, was a coach at the University of Rhode Island. “My dad was the one who put baseball into my life. I would hang out at the field with him and he would let me play catch with the players and just be around the game constantly,” Morris said. “He really taught me about something that I love to do.”

Morris played in Jamestown in his early years and then moved to Little League in North Kingstown where he first met up with D’Errico and Normand.

After catching, pitching and playing third base for the Lawn Avenue School team in middle school, Morris made the varsity team as a freshman at NK. “I played third base at the high school my freshman and sophomore year and even at the start of my junior year,” he said.

He did not stay at third base for long that year, however. One NK shortstop had arm trouble and another became academi- cally ineligible to play. “I approached Ryan and asked him if he would be willing to take a chance at shortstop,” Gormley said. “He told me he would do whatever the team needed, which is the answer I knew I would get from him.”

Morris showed his true mettle right from the start at the new position. “He just took it and ran with it. He has a great arm and he just kept working on his range. He has proven he can play shortstop with the best of them,” Gormley said.

Although shortstop is the position he would eventually win the Gatorade award for, it was not an exact fit from the start, according to Morris. “I did have a little struggle there at the beginning. There was a lot more action at short than third base, but I kept working at it,” Morris said.

His willingness to move to the new position is also a positive example for other players. With 10 seniors and 10 underclassman on the team, athletic director Keith Kenyon said Morris is a great role model for younger players. “As a coach, he is the kid you want on your team. He works as hard as anybody, he never talks back to the coaches, he’s respectful, he shows up on time and he is the last one to leave the field.”

All of that extra work may be what tipped the scales in Morris’ favor with the Gatorade judges. “Because the nominations are due half way through the season, a lot of times these things end up being decided by how a player performed in their junior year. Ryan had a very good junior year, but his power numbers were so outstanding by the halfway point this season, I think that was hard for them to ignore,” Gormley said.

Morris is tops in the state in home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored and a host of other offensive categories.

The one thing that has eluded Morris in his days on the diamond at NK, and would be a crown jewel to go with his Gatorade award, is a state championship. The Skippers lost to Cranston West in the finals Morris’ freshman year and the team did not make it back to the finals at McCoy for either his sophomore or junior year.

The team was scheduled to play South Kingstown, a team they beat twice during the regular season, at McCoy stadium last night. A win would have them facing Bishop Hendricken in the finals this weekend.

“Beating Hendricken at Hendricken last year was one of the best memories of my high school career. We had not beat them in a regular season game in something like 25 years, so it felt so good,” Morris said.

Hopefully Morris will be taking the title of state champion with him in the fall when he heads south to play Division I baseball for Presbyterian College in South Carolina.

“The best thing about Ryan is that he has his best days ahead of him athletically,” Kenyon said. “He is definitely going to be someone to watch.”

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