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January 27, 2022

From college walk-on to NFL starter, Philly native Jimmy Morrissey's football odyssey continues

The La Salle grad went from a walk-on at Pitt to starting four games at center for the Texans this season.

The dam would break under a high blue sky, in a rather balmy 72 degrees in early November. The flood of hundreds of unreturned emails, being ignored at the various college camps, and the labels of “too slow,” “too short,” “too small” came pouring through Jimmy Morrissey in waves. And pouring out his eyes in tears as he stood at attention for the national anthem on the sidelines of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound 2016 La Salle College High School graduate was about to play his first NFL game, as the starting center for the Houston Texans against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 7.

Morrissey didn’t care if anyone saw him openly crying. No one did. He wiped away the tears, snuck his helmet on, the emotional pang of his new journey was swept away, and then it became football again — the game he loves.

He went from being an under-recruited, deemed undersized at the time, offensive lineman out of La Salle, to walking on at Pitt, to becoming a three-time all-ACC center, to being selected by the Las Vegas Raiders with the 230th overall by the Raiders in the 2021 NFL Draft’s seventh round, to making the Raiders’ practice squad to this — starting four games for the Houston Texans and now second on the team’s depth chart behind 30-year-old free agent Justin Britt.

“I stood there with my hand on my heart, and my helmet under my arm for the national anthem and that’s when it hit me,” Morrissey recalled. “I thought back at all of the times no college coach returned any of the hundreds of emails I sent out, or the seven college camps I went to, when no coach paid any attention to me, and it all came back.

“It was an incredible moment that I will never forget. It was amazing, how this all came full circle, that I was living this all again. My parents (Jim and Siobhan) were there, and they’re my biggest fans in the world. That meant everything to me that they were there.”

Morrissey was quickly pulled back to the reality of trying to block 6-7, 330-pound nose tackle Raekwon Davis. He had to receive a crash course in the Texans’ system, having signed with them on October 19, 2021. Within a month’s time, he was starting for Houston, when Britt was lost to a knee injury.

He played well against the Dolphins, a 17-9 loss. He received good feedback from Houston veteran offensive line coach James Campen and the staff. After a bye week, Morrissey started against Tennessee Titans (a 22-13 win) and the New York Jets (a 21-14 loss).

Both games, Morrissey admits, he didn’t play well.

“I didn’t have my best showing in those games, and I’m happy that I didn’t end the season with those starts,” Morrissey said. “I got another one against the (Los Angeles) Chargers. I think not knowing the offense just yet slowed down my play a little bit. It was the first time in years I had to think about what the play was and what the play call was going to be.

“I was doing a lot more thinking than I liked to have done, which slowed down everything else. I was helped a lot by Lane Taylor, Justin McCray and Max Sharping, our guards, and Britt was a huge help. I gave up a sack to Quinnen Williams against the Jets.”

Morrissey had been sliding to Williams, and later in the game, he did the same thing, when Williams took a different track, and Morrissey blocked air.

“That was a case of thinking too much,” said Morrissey, who also got great input from former Pitt teammate and Minnesota Vikings’ tackle Brian O’Neill, a Salesianum graduate who is emerging as one of the best tackles in the NFL,

The Chargers game was his best, going against 329-pound veteran tackle Linval Joseph, who Morrissey described as a mammoth.

“The first thing all offensive linemen do is look at their scouting reports and the height and weight of the guy they’re facing,” said Morrissey, who went from the $165,000 practice squad salary to the $660,000 rookie league minimum. “By then, it was (Dec. 26) and I had the offense down. It’s a matter of more experience. I was on the Texans for less than 20 days, before I started my first game.

“I became comfortable with the coaching, and comfortable with the scheme, playing next to my guys, and I just became more confident. I was more relieved that I got another start. I knew I didn’t want to end my season on those two games. I didn’t think I put out on tape what I really could do. I wasn’t happy with what I did in my previous three games. I knew I put out a better version of myself against the Chargers than in those three games.”

Morrissey had some fun, too. Titans’ defensive end Jeffery Simmons saw Morrissey’s round face and just before a snap playfully said across the line, “Hey 79, you’re a baby,” which cracked up both the Titans and Texans. A few plays before that, Morrissey had pancaked Simmons.

Against the Chargers, a defensive end yelled at the Texans’ huddle, “Hey 79, how old are you?” The 23-year-old Morrissey yelled back, “I’m 19, why?”

Morrissey also found another interesting thing about the NFL. He experienced playing against some teams and players that quit.

“It didn’t surprise me, because I heard about guys hanging it up in the middle of the game,” Morrissey said. “NFL guys don’t quit. You hear certain guys make business decisions. I saw it.”

MORE: Jimmy Morrissey hoping hard work — and Jason Kelce's advice — pays off in NFL | La Salle High School grad Jimmy Morrissey is Philly’s football 'Rocky'

Morrissey also brought up rising Texans’ quarterback Davis Mills, who is out of Stanford and has made huge leaps in his rookie season. In Mills, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound third-round draft pick, the Texans may have a better quarterback situation than anticipated. Mills threw for 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Entering the final game of his rookie season, Mills led the NFL with a red zone passer rating of 115.4.

Still, the Texans fired their head coach, David Culley, and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly after a 4-13 finish.

“Davis really did turn it on at the end of the year,” Morrissey said. “We have a shot at winning a lot of games with Davis. He’s always prepared. He has a quiet swagger, he’s a smart guy who likes football and you can tell he functions as a pro already.

“The Texans won’t let him go. I do have to say this, the Raiders treated me very well, far better than what I hear other teams treat their practice squad players. In the short time I’ve been here in Houston, this is a good culture, because no one here quit. Everyone played their tails off.

“There is something to build on here in Houston. It’s a good group of guys that have great attitudes and they love football. We were out of the playoffs, and guys were still playing hard.”

This offseason, Morrissey plans on returning home to work out again with Jason Kelce, as he did last summer, and attend the annual Maxwell Awards dinner on March 18 in Atlantic City, and then going back to Houston to begin the next phase of his journey — as a pro.

“I look back at it all and I still shake my head,” he said. “I remember texting back and forth with Brian O’Neill after my first start. We went over some things in pass coverage, and he asked me if I thought I belonged. I texted him back, ‘No doubt, I feel I belong here.’”

He does.

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.