For former Warrior, journey to state title is global

For former Warrior, journey to state title is global

DEKALB — It's not unusual for fans to travel from out of state in support of their favorite athletic programs, even at the high school level.

But perhaps no prep squad can say it's had a rooter hop from one continent to another for a game.

That's the situation for Tuscola football before today's Class 1A state championship game against Lena-Winslow at DeKalb's Huskie Stadium. The supporter: Australia native and one-time Warrior Blake Morgan.

As a foreign-exchange student last year, Morgan wound up in the Douglas County city and joined its football team for a single season. Early Thursday in Australia, Morgan was preparing for a 23-hour flight to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after getting a week's leave from Edmund Rice College in New South Wales.

"As soon as I found out we made the state championship, I knew that I needed to be there," Morgan said. "Because I miss it all so much. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that all my friends were playing in."

Tuscola coach Andy Romine knew Morgan and his family were watching a live stream of last weekend's 1A semifinal against Athens, which started at roughly 7 a.m. in Morgan's hometown. But Romine did not expect Morgan to fly back to Illinois for the final.

"It means a lot more than you think," the third-year coach said. "It makes you feel like you're doing it for the right reasons."

Morgan roomed in Tuscola with the Sementi family, which contributes assistant coach Lenny and senior tight end/linebacker Cale to the Warrior football squad.

Morgan said he knew before coming to America he wanted to play football, a sport he'd seen on television far more than he'd played it.

"We just happen to have families in town who take foreign-exchange students, and they're like, 'What should we do?'" said Romine, whose team welcomed Italy's Ludo Martinez in 2015 and Germany's Tim Jaster in 2017. "And I guess in Tuscola they say, 'If you're here in the fall, you should try football.'"

But Morgan did more than try. In his first game, the Aug. 26 season-opener between Tuscola and Fisher, he blocked, recovered and returned a punt 31 yards for a touchdown in the Warriors' 61-6 victory.

"I will never forget it," Morgan said. "I just thought, 'Hey, I know where the ball is going to go, I'm going to go after it.' And after it landed in my hands, and I ran it in, I didn't know what to do after I scored. I just started screaming."

When Morgan arrived at the Warriors' hotel just outside DeKalb on Thursday night, it was to be a surprise to all but a few team members. Morgan said he's most looking forward to seeing "home brother" Cale Sementi's reaction.

And if the Warriors capture their first state crown since 2009?

"Obviously I can imagine, because I know they're going to do it," Morgan said. "It'll be surreal."

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (2):Education, People