COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers member Tanner Morgan, and Shaun Clifford of Penn State, tied to QBs since 6th grade – InForum

MINNEAPOLIS – It’s strange how Tanner Morgan and Sean Clifford have traveled similar, sometimes convergent, paths.

Sixth-grade Morgan’s Kentucky team played Clifford, Ohio. The youth teams approximately 30 miles apart had a rematch in the seventh grade. They didn’t play with each other in high school, when they would gather in yards and hear from college recruits, but Morgan remembers watching Clifford’s highlights on the TV news.

They became the full-time Big Ten starting quarterbacks in 2019, with Morgan Govers beating Clifford Nittany Lions in a top 15 game in Minnesota in November. With over 40 games each, Year 6 players have become synonymous with their schools, racking up major wins in their programs while doing it the right way. But when things have gone sideways, critics are quick to say they’re ready to move on to the shiny, new, more-employed backups for freshmen.

Their parallel paths may meet again when the Penn State 16 Gophers play a nationally televised game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Both solid Morgan and Clifford are dealing with the injuries that knocked them out of last Saturday’s games. The ability to play on Saturday remains unclear. Coaches PJ Flick and James Franklin, to whom they are so loyal, haven’t revealed if they’ll play White Out in Pennsylvania in Happy Valley. If cleared, vets would take the field.

With the pandemic allowing a sixth year of eligibility, Morgan was able to return at age 23 and Clifford at 24. With that in mind at Big Ten Media Days in July, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Clifford about the usefulness of “institutional knowledge.”

“I’m thinking of my son Tanner Morgan in Minnesota,” Clifford said. “…we’ve been playing with each other since[sixth]grade and we think both of our old (butts) are still playing in the bigger stages, it’s so cool because that friendship is so deep.”

If Morgan and Clifford are allowed to play on Saturday, they will be in front of more than 100,000 people in the stadium as well as ABC television audiences across the country, but Clifford described youth matches as “the best days of football.”

NCAA Football: Pennsylvania State in Michigan

Penn State Nittany Lyons quarterback Shaun Clifford against the Michigan Wolverines on October 15, 2022, at Michigan Stadium. Clifford and University of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan have known each other since the sixth grade.

Rick Osintosky/USA Today Sports

“Realistically speaking, you have no interest in the world,” Clifford continued. “You’re there and you get orange slices in the first half. It’s the coolest thing, and that’s what football is all about. It’s about having fun and being able to be with your friends and play the game you love and learn lessons from real life through football. That’s what I remember the most. “.

Morgan shared more vivid memories. Clifford Academy and Cincinnati Hills Christian headed south to play Morgan and Ryle in 2010.

“I think our only loss, or one of our only losses, was them,” Morgan told the Pioneer Press last week. “They hit us, six to zero, because they ran a hook and ladder in the third quarter. They went 60 yards and scored.”

Clifford completed the hook path, even Morgan remembered what tick mark it was (the right one).

“I don’t know why I remember it so much,” Morgan said. “They signed up for it, and I wasn’t happy.”

In 2011, Morgan’s Ryle team traveled north to Cincinnati, a big deal for kids in small communities in Kentucky. Morgan & Company beat Clifford that day.

“I remember throwing a slash and going off on one of my best friends,” Morgan said.

Playing against Clifford left an imprint on Morgan. “It was one of the first times I was competing against someone and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s really good. “”

Morgan and Clifford remained on friendly terms. While they hadn’t played against each other for another eight years, Morgan remembered turning on the news after high school games under the lights on Friday night. He saw Clifford, the most famous recruit, go to win the state championship at St. Xavier in Cincinnati.

When they played again in 2019, Morgan turned off. Complete 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Clifford had success but also struggled in the big moments, going 23-for-43 for 340 yards with one touchdown and three picks. He threw an objection to shutting the game down to the security of the now University of Minnesota in Jordan Houdin.

“The 2019 game was definitely a tough one,” Clifford said in July. “They brought their ‘A’ game in. They have a large fan base. Looking forward to this year. Get to see them again. Tanner, he was talking. I’ll see him when he comes this week. It’s always fun because Tanner and I are boys, but we have another chance.”

You must determine whether they will actually get that last chance to meet again. College football grinds players, even the quarterbacks whose star was giving it back. Morgan and Clifford shared these kinds of comments.

“We’ve had similar trips and played in the best conference in college football for a long time,” Morgan said. “We’ve had our highs, we’ve had our lows. There are a lot of outside expectations in this situation that we’re in. We’re two different people, two different personalities about how we approach this kind of thing, but we’re talking about life.”

Clifford reached out to Morgan about Kirk Ciaruka, the offensive coordinator who left Minnesota to coach Clifford for one season at Penn State in 2020 before returning to the U.S. this fall. Ciarrocca knows both QBs intimately, and could see Morgan’s passion for playing the game when he started recruiting him.

“It was a long time before I ever met him,” Ciarroca said this week. “It was something he was instilled in him from a young age and from his mother and father. Something he took very seriously.”

If Morgan is able to take a slant on Saturday and is able to land, Clifford will be on the other side of the sideline and do everything in his power to strike back at his childhood and close college rival.

It would be just as they did in 2010-11, when they ate orange slices and had more carefree passes.


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