Dajour Morris is an excellent role model for students throughout the Greater Johnstown School District.
On Thursday, the big two-way lineman signed a letter of intent to continue his education and football career at NCAA Division I University of Akron.
That alone is a source of pride throughout the school district.
But of perhaps more significance, Morris provides an example of a young man who chose to take a positive approach to his life after he had, by his own admission, strayed too long and too far down a negative path.
“My junior year I got into some serious trouble with the law,” Morris admitted candidly as members of the media gathered for his signing on the Cochran Auditorium stage on Thursday. “After I got out of that trouble, After School Live and everyone that was there for me took me under their arm and showed me that I could be successful doing positive things instead of negative things.
“I think that was my wake-up call to show me that I could be successful. They took me under their wing. The trouble ... that really showed me that this is not what I wanted to do in my life. I really wanted to focus on football and being a great person and a leader. That woke me up and showed me I had to kick it into gear and get my life together.”
The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Morris has done just that.
“It’s amazing what he’s done and the things I’ve seen him do with kids when they had situations,” Johnstown coach Tony Penna Jr. said. “We had a kid almost get into an altercation.
“Just listening to the talk Dajour gave him about not getting into fights at school and the consequences he’d face if he got into a fight, it really was something that had an affect on the kid and me. He wants to help people. Dajour realized that was something he enjoyed and he turned negatives into positives.”
In the fall of Morris’ junior year there were negatives.
Morris found his circumstances and behavior had put him on the wrong side of the law. He faced serious trouble.
He was on the local television news and in this newspaper for all the wrong reasons at that time. That fact that he missed out on being a part of Johnstown’s 2009 District 6 Class AAA title game victory was the least of his worries.
The march back to being a positive influence has been a rewarding journey for Morris, who put his family, friends, teammates and especially schoolwork first.
Morris gushed about the influence of Johnstown’s After School Live program, which provides academic tutoring and mentoring.
“They put me on the straight road, the right road to make my life the way I want to make it to be successful,” Morris said. “Without them I don’t think I’d be here. After School Live and everyone that has been there for me has considered me a leader.”
His football coaches and teammates also have had an impact on him.
Johnstown won a second straight 6-AAA crown under first-year head coach Penna.
This time Morris was a big part of the victory celebration.
He was part of an offensive line that enabled Johnstown to rush for 2,227 yards and pass for another 2,420. On the defensive line, where he’s projected to play at Akron, Morris had 64 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
In the past year Morris has performed hours of community service, including helping a group of Johnstown students plant flowers in the form of a large American Flag at Sandyvale Cemetery. He’s been a part of the school’s book fairs and also participated in the district’s Lights On Afterschool program in which high school students join elementary kids to speak about school, study habits, nutrition and the importance of afterschool programs.
“I want to show the kids that it’s possible to do what you want. That means a lot to me,” Morris said.
Penna believes that Morris’ outlook took a giant leap forward when he truly realized that college was a possibility. The coach said that’s a hurdle many students in the district encounter.
“He once said he never thought he would make it to college, but when he saw he could get there and it sunk in, he really went after it,” Penna said.
“You’ve got to realize sometimes the journey looks too long and some people give up before they get started.”
Morris might not be a straight A student. Maybe he’ll be a college football star. Maybe he won’t.
But there’s no denying that he’s been a part of one of the best comeback stories in the region. Morris turned a negative situation into a positive experience not only for himself but for many of those around him.
“It was always my dream to play Division I football since I was a little kid,” Morris said. “I played peewee football for the Jaguars down at the middle school. That’s when I really started getting interested in football. That’s been my dream every since. For it to really happen and come true means a lot to me.”
For Morris, the dream will continue this fall at Akron.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.