Morgan holds memories close to his heart

There is no doubt rookie quarterback Tanner Morgan was hoping to hear his phone ring during the NFL Draft with news that a team was selecting him.

But when that didn't happen, it didn't mean the end of the road for the University of Minnesota quarterback.

Instead, it was just the beginning.

As the draft was winding down, and the seventh round coming to a close, Morgan got a call from the Steelers wanting to sign him as an undrafted rookie free agent. He jumped at the opportunity, knowing there were only two other quarterbacks on the roster, and it gave him a better shot.

"Saturday, the last day of the draft, was probably the longest day for me because I knew the first two days nothing was going to happen," said Morgan. "I was just hanging out with my wife and my family. Saturday was definitely long. Just the way it was going I thought there's a chance, but I knew it was either going to be sixth or seventh round or an undrafted free agent opportunity. As the draft kept going on, I kind of knew that there were only certain other places where it could happen. We just kind of monitored it that way. And my agent did a great job.

"When I got the call from the Steelers after the draft, it was a pretty quick and easy decision. I was very blessed and excited to be able to have an opportunity to join such a great organization. I'm just incredibly thankful to get an opportunity with the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Morgan fielded calls from other teams, but the Steelers were the first team to reach out, and he respected that.

"It was the place where I wanted to go," said Morgan. "When they called, I basically accepted the deal and my agents, they were kind of doing the work as soon as the draft ended, and as soon as I talked to Coach (Mike) Sullivan it was a done deal. When other teams called, I just said I was going to be a Steeler."

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The Steelers had only two quarterbacks under contract before contacting Morgan, starter Kenny Pickett and backup Mitch Trubisky, and later signed Mason Rudolph. Morgan knew that would create a better opportunity for him and he couldn't help but jump at the opportunity.

"It's not a place where there's already four quarterbacks on the roster," said Morgan. "It's three great quarterbacks and great people in Kenny and Mitch and Mason. It's an opportunity where I'm super excited to be part of that room and to learn from those guys. Just be involved in the day-to-day process.

"It's a fantastic culture that's been built over a long period of time and that's incredibly attractive. It's great coaches and I'm excited to learn from them, and obviously a lot of great players and I'm just excited to go in and learn and be an asset in any way that I can."

Having veteran quarterbacks to learn from is going to do nothing but benefit Morgan in his learning process.

"You have to learn from everyone's experiences," said Morgan. "You have to draw from your experiences and learn from others as well. To learn from them is going to be awesome. I'm incredibly excited to be able to learn from those guys and the experiences that they've had. I'll be a sponge in anything that they say I'll be taking notes and learning from it."

While at Minnesota Morgan set numerous school records, including season records of most passing yards with 3,253 (2019), touchdown passes with 30 (2019) and passing yards per game with 250.2 (2019). His final season he played in the East-West Shrine Bowl, the Hula Bowl, and was a Wuerffel Trophy finalist. He won 33 games for the Golden Gophers, completing 661 of 1,063 pass attempts for 9,454 yards and 65 touchdowns. He played five seasons, plus redshirted in 2017, starting 47 of the 51 games he played in, something that is a big advantage.

"I've played a lot of college football and bring those experiences with me," said Morgan. "I bring consistency, being able to go to the correct reads, get the ball out on time and keep things moving efficiently. When things break down, being able to make some plays outside the pocket and get the ball in playmakers' hands. The NFL is an entirely different game, but I've played a lot of ball and had a lot of reps. To be able to bring those with me and do whatever I can to be an asset to the room.

"I love watching film. It's the process When you're prepared, you're allowed to go out there and be confident. It's something that I enjoy doing. When you go into a game and you feel incredibly prepared, it allows you to just go out there and play."

Along with his playing experience, Morgan also brings a lot of life experiences with him to the Steelers. He has already earned his undergraduate degree and his Masters in Sports Management from Minnesota. He is also married with a child on the way, giving him a different sense of responsibility than a lot of young players.

"I feel like I've been mature for a long time," said Morgan. "I draw on the experiences I've had in life, in football, to create how I'm going to go about life and attack every day. I know that life is short, and you've got to live it to the best of your ability each and every day and make the most of the opportunities that you get.

"Going through the things that I that I've been through definitely has helped me just become a more mature person and more grounded in life for sure."

The things he has gone through in life truly is what has helped form Morgan into the man he is today. And one, was filled with emotions for him.

Morgan lost his father, Ted Morgan, when he died of brain cancer in the July 2021. Morgan's dad was always there with him, through youth football, to high school, to college. He never missed a game, never missed the opportunity to be there for his son. He battled the disease bravely, but it sadly took away the man who was one of Morgan's biggest supporters.

"It was awesome to have him there with me for the time I did," said Morgan. "He always believed in me and gave me every opportunity to be successful, whether it was taking me to practices, games, throwing lessons, all kinds of stuff. To experience all the things that I was able to experience with him was awesome."

Ted Morgan did more than just drive his son to practice and games. He coached him when he was younger, including his freshman and sophomore years of high school. Morgan jokes that sometimes it was a difficult dynamic having dad as a coach, but they are memories he will always have close to his heart. Just as he will always hold close to him the advice his dad shared with him.

"He would always say to be humble, but confident," said Morgan. "Be very humble but be incredibly confident in the abilities that you have. That always stuck with me.

"Also, to see how much faith he had in his last days was inspiring for me. I'm very thankful for the time I was able to have with him and the impact it had on my life."

Losing him, especially close to the start of football camp and the season, was tough for Morgan, but what he relied on was what got him through life to this point – faith, family and football.

"It was hard, but relying on faith and knowing I have a hope that I will see him again in a far better place," said Morgan. "Getting back to football and being around the locker room that stuff gave me a lot of joy. To be around my brothers, to go about the process of everything. It was definitely tough. But I was incredibly fortunate I could lean on my faith and my football family. That helped push me through those dark times.

"My first game after he passed, when I was on the field, I didn't really feel much different. I was doing what I love to do. But after the game, it was like, that was the first time I played without my dad watching me. I'm sure he'd be proud."

Last season, ESPN's College GameDay did a story on Morgan and his father after his passing, which included an interview with his mother, Pat. She talked about dealing with Ted Morgan's illness and then one day it rained, and the rain was healing for her during the grieving process, making her realize everything would be okay.

It soon became a sign for the Morgan family.

During Ted Morgan's funeral, on a day that started bright and sunny, rain poured down as Taps started to be played.

Morgan's first game after his father's passing – yes, it rained.

It rained when Minnesota played West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, in the desert, after a week of beautiful weather.

And when Tanner was married, there was a light rain that fell before the wedding.

"My mom had a vision of rain being something that God was going to give her for comfort," said Morgan. "There have been a lot of moments where it's raining, and it brings us comfort. It definitely brings a lot of comfort."

As Morgan was waiting for his phone to ring on the final day of the draft, just shortly before the Steelers called, his mother came downstairs.

"She came down and said…it's raining," said Morgan. "It was knowing it's going to work out the way it should and I'm going to be in a good spot and to not worry about anything. That definitely brought some comfort, especially to my mom and to me for sure."