Maryland men’s lacrosse goalkeeper Dan Morris, then a fifth-grader in Dallas, agreed to participate in a one-week lacrosse camp if the counselors let him play goalkeeper. He just liked how the stick looked.
In his first-ever drill, he stood in front of a net while a high school player fired tennis balls at him. Rather than becoming upset as the powerful shots struck his legs, he left the session excited to show friends his bruises.
That afternoon, counselors asked Morris to play goalkeeper during a scrimmage, telling him to just stop the ball.
Though Morris “had no idea what was going on” as older players launched efforts toward his goal, he enjoyed his role in the hectic game. So, when the day ended, he told his mom he wanted to join a team.
“He got in goal the first game and that was just kind of his thing,” his mother, Patricia Morris, said. “He absolutely loved it.”
Dan Morris’ camp experience started an unlikely journey from northern Texas to a crucial spot on the No. 2 Maryland men’s lacrosse team. After not starting his first three years in College Park, the redshirt junior ranks first in the Big Ten with 11.09 saves per game this season.
But while his playing time has increased, his calm demeanor, on-field competitiveness and eccentric style haven’t wavered.
“He didn’t try to become someone that he wasn’t,” said Kyle Bernlohr, the former All-American Maryland goalkeeper who started ahead of Morris for two seasons. “Dan has always been exactly who he is and he never tries to change for anyone else. That’s why he gets respect.”
‘HIS OWN LITTLE WORLD’
In fourth grade, Morris wanted to be the king.
So, in a four square game, he defended his area from the threat of a bouncing rubber ball, waiting patiently to reach the highest ranking. At last, he moved into the king square, thinking, “I’m not giving this up.”
That desire led to the worst injury he’s suffered. When someone spiked the ball into his space, he turned to make a dramatic save. Instead, he broke a growth plate in his ankle.
The next day, Morris went to school unaware of the hairline fracture. He played soccer in gym, ignoring the note his mom gave him to sit out. When he cleared the ball, pain shot through his ankle.
“I just thought I’d rolled it,” Morris said. “I got the ball … and I remember I hit it and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that hurt so bad.'”
Since the four square battle, Morris has continued to display in-game competitiveness. When Morris puts his chest protector and helmet on in the locker room before a matchup, midfielder Tim Rotanz said, he “goes into his own little world.”
“As a goalie, you’ve got to do that,” Rotanz added. “He doesn’t really talk to anyone, he just gets into his own zone.”
However, Christian Carson-Banister, Morris’ best friend and backup goalkeeper at Dallas Jesuit high school, remembers the time Morris let his inner determination show.
In their sophomore season, Carson-Banister, known as “CB” to close friends, said Morris became frustrated with his play and the defensive effort of his teammates. Entering a contest against an underdog opponent, Morris had allowed goals on the first shot of the previous three games.
So, when Morris let another opening effort pass him, he turned and slammed his stick against the goal’s frame, snapping it in half. With the ensuing faceoff about to take place, he held the shattered pole together and called out to his friend on the sidelines.
“I was like, ‘CB! I need a stick!'” Morris said. “He started scrambling.”
After Dallas Jesuit won the draw, Morris sprinted off the field and grabbed Carson-Banister’s backup equipment before returning to his post. During the next timeout, Carson-Banister moved “like a NASCAR pit crew” to screw the undamaged head of Morris’ stick onto the backup pole.
“It was crazy,” Morris said. “I try to be even-keeled, but that was a little [exception].”
“He’s a very laid-back guy,” Carson-Banister explained, “but when he’s on the field, he becomes a highly competitive person.”
A SOUTHERN VIBE
Morris likes to wear bright-colored socks, ties with penguins or little green Yoda characters on them and comfortable pants. He often dons band shirts for Weezer or Blink-182 with shoes that don’t match.
And he doesn’t mind that people think he looks ridiculous.
“His fashion sense is non-existent,” said Chris Surran, Morris’ high school coach and mentor. “His basic matching of clothing is horrific. But he doesn’t care, which also makes it pretty funny.”
With his unusual attire and Texan mannerisms, Morris drew immediate attention from teammates when he arrived in College Park.
In his first few weeks on campus, defensive midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen asked Morris what he meant when he kept using the colloquialism “hoofin’ it.” Morris explained the regional phrase referred to a person walking somewhere far away.
“Isaiah gave me so much crap for that,” Morris remembered.
But Morris returned the friendly banter to teammates.
He said players from near Philadelphia, such as attackman Matt Rambo, pronounce water as “wooter.” And when he gets New Yorkers Rotanz and defender Tim Muller talking fast, their Long Island accents emerge.
“It’s just fun to pick up on that kind of stuff,” Morris said. “You give them crap for a couple of minutes, and then they’ll just give it back to you.”
Morris admitted he uses “y’all” less than he did as a freshman after spending so much time in Maryland. But for the most part, he’s held onto the characteristics he brought with him from Dallas.
Through almost four years playing with Morris, the Terps still sometimes poke fun at his unique traits. But they’ve also come to appreciate his unchanged persona.
“Dan brings that southern vibe,” Davis-Allen said. “One thing he does a great job of is he never gets too high and he never gets too low. He’s very even-keeled, and I think that goes back to his southern mindset.”
A BIG INSPIRATION
As a budding goalkeeper in Dallas, Morris worked under Surran, whose strenuous training through middle and high school prepared Morris for college.
Surran, a former All-American goalkeeper at Syracuse and 1993 national title winner, first arrived in Texas as an attorney. Ultimately, though, he became the goalkeeping guru who helped establish Dallas lacrosse.
About 10 years ago, Surran began organizing annual winter youth lacrosse camps that brought 30 to 40 NCAA coaches to his state. In addition to high-level instruction for athletes such as Morris, the camps gave Dallas players exposure to college programs that had previously overlooked the area.
Surran introduced Morris to Maryland coach John Tillman, and he pushed Carson-Banister to play at Boston University. The three goalkeepers in Surran’s current Dallas Jesuit class are headed to North Carolina, UMBC and Hofstra.
“[Surran] has been a big inspiration to me,” Morris said. “He’s a tremendous goalie coach and a tremendous coach in general. He just knows how to get kids going.”
When Morris was in eighth grade, Surran anticipated he would develop into a Division I talent. He considered Morris’ hand speed to be near the level of Mickey Jarboe, the legendary two-time All-American former Navy goalkeeper.
“So I knew he could be pretty damn good,” Surran said.
In high school practice, Surran aimed to frustrate Morris and test his patience in preparation for NCAA lacrosse. Each time someone took a shot, Surran lashed out at Morris’ positioning, regardless of whether the ball went in.
At the first workout session of junior year, with Morris and Carson-Banister slightly out of shape, Surran demanded they run laps until he said stop.
Morris refused to crack against tactics he called “brutal.”
“[Morris] was fairly unflappable no matter what I said,” Surran recalled. “That was the goal, to try and get under their skin a little bit. Try to get them off their game, get them unnerved because that’s what happens in a college game.”
Morris appreciates the mind games Surran played in high school. The hostile environments and pressures he’s faced at Maryland don’t live up to his former coach’s training, so when road fans try to heckle Morris, he doesn’t get rattled.
His steady mindset has spread to other Terps.
Whenever defender Curtis Corley hears crowd remarks directed at the squad, he turns, smiles and tells Morris, “Man, these guys just aren’t smart enough to chirp us.”
After three-time All-American goalkeeper Niko Amato graduated in 2014, Maryland searched for a new netminder. Morris, who redshirted the season before, hoped to win that role. But he faced stiff competition from Bernlohr, then a junior.
Though Bernlohr possessed more experience, Morris thought he would take the competition. After all, he had been the No. 4 goalkeeper recruit in the nation, and he had never been a backup before joining Maryland.
But in a tight battle, Tillman said Bernlohr performed “just a little bit better,” earning him the starting nod.
At first, the news stung Morris. He had arrived at fall camp cocky and out of shape, and he felt his complacency cost him the job. Morris said the “tough-to-swallow” setback was the biggest frustration of his career.
But he kept an optimistic outlook and pushed Bernlohr in practice.
“He handled it well and continued to be a positive guy on our team,” Bernlohr said. “I honestly think he handled it better than the way I handled things in my first couple of years.”
Morris sat behind Bernlohr for two seasons as he won the Kelly Award for the nation’s best goalkeeper in 2015 and All-American honors in 2016. Morris compared the wait during those campaigns to a young NFL quarterback backing up a veteran.
“Since then I’ve tried to work as hard as I can,” Morris said. “I just tried to push, challenge and compete to make Kyle better and make myself better.”
Morris’ history with Carson-Banister also shaped his response to being named the Terps’ No. 2 goalkeeper. The two were “inseparable” friends in high school, according to Surran, though Morris received most of the playing time.
Rather than hoping for Morris to commit missteps so he could take his job, Carson-Banister said “it was just about wanting each other to become the best players we could be.”
Given that connection, their bond has continued into college, as they FaceTime every Friday to catch up and relax before weekend games.
“Dan learned a lot from his buddy CB,” Surran said. “When he was playing at Jesuit, CB didn’t play as much as Dan did. But CB never complained. He just took the opportunity he had and did a great job with it.”
A DREAM COME TRUE
When Morris visited Maryland as a recruit, an unexpected sign pushed him to commit.
Walking with his parents and former defensive assistant Kevin Warne by the Riggs Alumni Center to pick up homecoming football tickets, Morris noticed an alumni band playing music.
The drummer for the group wore a No. 8 Maryland jersey. Morris couldn’t believe it.
He’d played the drums for more than a decade and donned No. 8 since he was a youth soccer player. Warne, noticing the goalkeeper’s excitement, offered his own assessment.
“There you go, Danny,” Warne said. “That just means you’re coming here.”
“I was like, ‘This is awesome,'” Morris remembered. “This must be the place for me.'”
It took three years for Morris to become a starter, but his faith in his future at Maryland never diminished. Surrounded by a group of “really supportive” teammates, even the distance from home didn’t unsettle him.
Still, his increased playing time this season has provided a boost.
“He’s definitely gained a lot more confidence,” Muller said. “It’s hard, as everyone knows, to sit back for a couple of years and watch every other person play. You can definitely see as the weeks have gone on he’s grown.”
Morris made a career-high 16 saves in Maryland’s 13-12 triple-overtime win over Rutgers on Sunday, with seven of those coming after the start of the fourth quarter. He won US Lacrosse Magazine’s National Player of the Week and Big Ten Co-Specialist of the Week for his effort.
After becoming Maryland’s starting goalkeeper, an accomplishment he called “a dream come true,” Morris said he now wants to make his parents, supporters and home state proud.
But to the people who’ve witnessed his fortitude over the past few seasons, he’s already done enough to meet that goal.
“It’s amazing to see what he’s accomplished,” said Patricia Morris, who choked up as she considered her son’s journey. “He’s worked so hard to get there. He’s put in so many countless hours working for this job.”