Monday night marks the end of an era in college football in a multitude of ways.
For one, the conclusion of the 2023 season signifies the end of the 4-team College Football Playoff era which first launched in 2014. Also, it marks the final time a Pac-12 logo will be emblazoned upon a football team’s uniforms, as the Washington Huskies look to send the conference into the sunset with its first national championship since the league expanded to 12 teams in 2011.
But the College Football Playoff National Championship also signifies the end of an era for one quarterback Dylan Morris. Monday night’s clash with Michigan represents Morris’ final game wearing a Washington Huskies uniform. The senior spent five years in Seattle, having a stranglehold on the starting gig for two seasons before Heisman finalist quarterback Michael Penix Jr. arrived in 2022. But unlike many seniors, this game won’t put a bow on his college career.
Once the confetti settles in Houston to crown a new national champion, Morris is off to a new adventure. The quarterback will conclude his six-year college career at James Madison. Morris made his transfer destination official this week, but rather than delve into his new opportunity, he will finished what he started in 2019, taking one last business trip with Washington before blazing a new trail in Sun Belt country.
“It’s been challenging at times, but the discussions I’ve had with the coaches to figure out the best way to do it with me entering the transfer portal — it was very mutual between both of us that I wanted to stay (for the National Championship) and they wanted me to stay as well,” Morris said. “I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity like this. I spent five years here. For me to just go away at this time, I know in my heart, it just wasn’t the right thing to do and the coaches realized that as well.”
Morris started 15 of Washington’s 16 contests across the 2020 and 2021 seasons and made seldom appearances as a reserve in 2022 and 2023. The Washington native compiled stats of 3,721 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, and 17 interceptions on a 60.6 completion rate during his 5-year tenure in Seattle. In his final lap with the Huskies, he will serve as the second-string quarterback for a program which seeks its first national title since 1991.
“It's been challenging trying to manage talking to schools and managing a gameplan, but it’s been a unique experience,” Morris said. “But it’s been fun.”
Morris hasn’t thrown a pass since Washington’s Sept. 23 win over Cal. Yet, whether or not Penix plays every snap Monday, Morris’ presence will be vital in Houston. During the Huskies’ Sugar Bowl victory over Texas, Morris provided feedback to Penix throughout the contest, as the starter delivered a performance for the ages with 430 passing yards and two touchdowns on a completion percentage of 76.
“I’m very grateful for our relationship these last two years,” Morris said. “On the sideline during games, I can talk and tell him what I’m seeing. I can just be an extra set of eyes on the sideline and I know he listens to it. We just talk about how the game’s moving and things that are going on. It’s a great relationship and I’m glad that we have that.”
The quarterback joins a new coaching staff at James Madison, as 2023 JMU head coach Curt Cignetti departed to Indiana prior to the team’s 2023 Armed Forces Bowl appearance. The 2024 Dukes will instead be fronted by Bob Chesney who coached Holy Cross this past season and guided the program to four consecutive FCS Playoff appearances.
“The conversations I had with the new coaching staff — relationships are a big piece for me in any place. It was the same thing here (at Washington), and that’s why I stayed — because of the relationships I had with other people, so that’s something I value,” Morris said. “It was the fit between relationships and football. I feel like they have a strong winning culture there and the fanbase is incredible, so that piece was what strongly drew me to them.”
James Madison first appeared on Morris’ radar shortly after the Dukes reveled in the national spotlight. The university was greeted with a College GameDay appearance on Nov. 11, which drew a record-breaking crowd of 26,000 live attendees and additionally garnered 2.29 million viewers on ESPN. Despite making his transfer destination official, the Puyallup, WA native still has never visited Harrisonburg, VA in his life. But Morris didn’t need an in-person visited to be sold, as that impressive exposure on a grand stage helped influence the Washington quarterback’s decision.
“Pat McAfee said it was one of the best GameDays he had been apart of,” Morris said. “Just seeing how that fanbase pulled out all the stops to make that experience incredible was really cool to see. Anywhere you see a fanbase support a team like that, it definitely shows the type of culture that’s in the city as well as the football program, so that definitely factored in as well.”
The Dukes are only two years into their FBS tenure, yet they boast quite an accomplished résumé. James Madison would have qualified for back-to-back Sun Belt Championship Games, except teams transitioning from the FCS level are barred from bowl games and conference championships for their first two FBS seasons. But James Madison navigated around the bowl ban this year due to a lack of eligible teams and battled Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Dukes spent both of their FBS seasons ranked in the AP Poll at some point and compiled a 19-5 record over that span. Now, they look to sustain that success with Morris as the chief signal caller.
“It’s a winning culture there,” Morris said. “They win ball games and find a way to do it, so any time you can be apart of a culture that is winning, one that helps you individually as a person, but also helps excel the program as well, and that’s what I’m excited about.”
But before Harrisonburg calls Morris’ name, he has one final mission to complete. And that involves rounding out an entire era of college football with a national championship at the school he called home for five years.
“You know with the Sugar Bowl last week, you don’t really know if that’s gonna be the last game or not,” Morris said. “Now you’re here and this is the last game. So I definitely get emotional thinking about it in terms that I’m so happy for our team and the full circle moment that we’ve had... And just for me individually, I wanted to play here my whole life and I’ve done that, and I leave with such peace in my heart moving forward after this. I’m excited for the opportunity on Monday and to go try and win a football game.”