Follow the leader: Island teen named Unsung Hero
Jake Morris was honored last month at a banquet at the Quidnessest Country Club. “It was kind of a surprise,” he said. Jake went on to say that he didn’t expect any recognition.
According to coach Jacques Faulise, who nominated Jake for the prize, the unsung heroes aren’t the athletes who win all the time. They’re the ones who put their team first and always give their best – Jake won for his unselfish efforts and his perseverance through a lot of adversity, especially on the gridiron.
“The kid really took a beating every week,” said Faulise.
Jake, 17, recently graduated. He will continue his studies at Roanoke College in Virginia.
This season Jake played varsity football and tennis at North Kingstown. He was captain of the tennis team and the starting quarterback on the football squad.
According to Faulise, who is the head coach of the boys’ tennis team, the program is up and coming. But this season, the Skippers were without their star Dan Hansen, who graduated last year. Hansen had been ranked Rhode Island’s top singles player for four years. Up until this season, Jake had been strictly a doubles player. But this year, without Hansen, he “stepped up” and played singles, Faulise said.
“I’ve always wanted to play singles,” Jake said. “I knew the setup.” He also saw that the Skippers weren’t given much chance of making the state finals. Only the top three teams in each division will make the cut, and this time, there really wasn’t room at the top. North Kingstown is in same division as three tennis powerhouses: Barrington, South Kingstown and Bishop Hendricken. Plus, the Skippers had lost six players – three singles and three doubles – from last year’s team.
But they played with the hope of surprising the experts. “The mentality we have,” Jake said, “is do your best.”
Although the Skippers ultimately didn’t make the playoffs, they were in all the matches. According to Jake, most of the scores were 4-3 or 5-2.
“We came pretty close,” he said. “We always had a chance.”
The football team also had some chances, but they had to play a tough schedule. In almost every game they faced a top contender in a division that includes the state’s strongest football programs. Yet Jake said he never thought about quitting, even though the football team went through a long losing streak.
“You play for your team, and not for yourself,” he said. “You go back to practice every week and you don’t let anybody down. You keep working for the other players, for the coaches and for the school.”
A handful of players did quit, he said, but most of the team stuck with it, despite the adversity.
“I would say I got hit hard a few times,” he said, “but I would always get up.” He was hurt in the game against Portsmouth and had to sit out a week with a concussion.
“Concussions are always a factor,” he said. North Kingstown is one of only two schools in the state to require all student-athletes to take baseline tests to make sure they’re not playing with a head injury.
Jake had played freshman football and he made the junior varsity his sophomore year. While he was playing for the JV team, the varsity squad had been a good team. The next season, in Jake’s junior year, he became the starting quarterback. It should have been good times but the Skippers – who lost 22 players to graduation – struggled and finished with an unenviable 0-10 season. This past fall, the team took more lumps, losing every game until mid-season when the Skippers finally broke the losing streak by defeating East Greenwich.
That victory was emphatic. The Skippers won 48-13, but they couldn’t capitalize on the triumph – North Kingstown didn’t win again for the rest of the season.
“The hardest part for us was playing the most competitive teams,” he said.
Jake won’t play football next year because Roanoke doesn’t have a team, but he says he will probably try out for the tennis team.
Asked to name the best reason to get involved in high school athletics, Jake said sports helped him fit in. As an islander, he was coming to North Kingstown from a comparatively small school district and he didn’t know many of the students. He was able to make friends on the field.
“I would say the best thing is it helps you meet people you wouldn’t meet anywhere else,” he said.