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Carson's Presley may be X factor

Senior tight end is leaner, faster version of the position. He also will play some defensive end.

August 28, 2008|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

Fourth in a series previewing top high school players.

There was a time when Morrell Presley of Carson High was a skateboarding, rollerblading, extreme-sports fanatic who enjoyed jumping his bike off hills and riding rails on his skateboard.

Then, at 13, he was reintroduced to football.

Soon after, he became a tight end, and the sport may have found its standard bearer for what a 21st-century tight end should be.

At 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, and with 4.5 speed for 40 yards, the USC-bound Presley is unlike any tight end in Carson history.

"He's the tight end of the future," Colts Coach Mike Christensen said. "He has tremendous athletic ability but can block in the trenches. He can catch and run like very few people."

Presley appreciates his coach's vision.

"In his eyes, he's saying I'm the new model of tight end . . . taller, slimmer, faster," he said. "To me, it's cool."

An average tight end can block or catch passes well. The great ones do both, and Presley seems headed in that direction.

Blocking wasn't always his favorite task, but he kept getting put in with the linemen during practice to encourage him, and he now likes the idea of taking on a linebacker or lineman.

"The first step is big," he said. "You let the defensive player get under you, you lose the battle."

Catching passes has been the easy part. He caught 31 for 496 yards and six touchdowns last season when the Colts made it to the City Section Championship Division final at the Coliseum before losing to Lake Balboa Birmingham, 41-6.

His speed forces teams to cover him with their fastest defensive back. Or they try to have a linebacker hit him before he can get off the line. Either way, he's a target who's tough to stop.

"I don't think there's a tight end like him in the country," Christensen said.

Add the fact that Presley has good grades and plans to graduate early to enroll at USC for spring practice next year means there's a lot to like about him.

His mother, Monika Hawkins, stakes claim to his speed, saying it's from her Hawaiian background.

Her decision to push him to succeed in school has been most beneficial. "No grades, no football," she said. "He knows who's the boss. I don't care how big he is."

But he's so big that, she said, "I can't even keep groceries in the house. I work for gasoline and to feed Morrell."

Presley played youth football, then dropped the sport. That's when he was into skateboarding. A basketball coach who also coached football convinced him to try the sport again, and he liked it.

He'll be trying something new, this season too. Carson's new defensive coordinator, Ralph Caldwell, has decided Presley could be a terror rushing the quarterback, so he plans to play him some at defensive end.

His first test will come Sept. 3 at Long Beach Veterans Stadium against a future USC teammate, quarterback Matt Barkley of Santa Ana Mater Dei in a game to be shown on ESPN2.

Barkley and others might want to encourage Presley to at least temporarily resume his skateboarding days.

"I don't think he would get on a skateboard now," his mother said.

But he actually has. This summer, Presley couldn't pass up the temptation.

"I was riding my little brother's down the street," he said.

Next up: offensive linemen


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