WEST LONG BRANCH – The details have faded, but the overall impression remains vivid for Monmouth University coach Kevin Callahan of the fall night in 2017 he spent watching Howell quarterback Eddie Morales in action.
“I was on the field for a game his senior year - I think it was against Manalapan - and I just loved what I saw,” Callahan recalled. “I really liked what he did. He maybe wasn’t what we were looking for in a typical quarterback recruit, but there was something about him. He had a moxie about him, and a demeanor on the field. I said, ‘I think this kid can play.’ “
Fast forward to the Hawks’ practice Tuesday in sweltering heat at Kessler Stadium, with the Sept. 1 season-opener at New Hampshire approaching quickly.
A former walk-on who spent his first practices as a freshman playing receiver, Morales is now considered among the top cornerbacks in FCS football. And as a key contributor on a pair of Big South championship teams, the fifth-year senior will play a key role this season as the Hawks transition to the Colonial Athletic Association, having emerged as a leader both in the locker room and on the field.
It’s that underdog mindset that continues to push Morales, 5-9, 180, a graduate student who has been named to several all-academic teams over the past year.
“I was a walk on when I got here and now I’m a starter, but just remembering where I came from and what I had to do to get where I’m at, you can never forget that," Morales said. "That really is where the motivation and fire come from. Once you lose that things start going downhill so I always bring that back into me.”
It’s easy to forget just how good Morales was in his role as a dynamic dual-threat quarterback for Howell, leading them to NJSIAA playoff victories in each of his last two seasons. The team went 9-2 his senior season as he threw for 2,156 yards and 24 TDs, while running for 727 yards and 10 TDs.
“I thought I was going to be a skill position player here,” Morales said. “I was two weeks into playing receiver in my first camp, and coach came to me and asked if I wanted to switch to cornerback. At the time it was an opportunity to get closer to playing, so I said yes, and I never looked back.”
The transition was both quick and dramatic. Morales actually played in eight games as a freshman, credited with five tackles against Wagner in the first month of the season.
“Initially he didn’t have a scholarship, but he made it clear early on he was a guy who was very deserving of one,” Callahan said.
He started three games as a sophomore and was a first-team All-Big South selection as a punt returner, before emerging as a starter the past two seasons. In 2021, Morales led the team with three interceptions, returning one 77 yards, and was fifth on the team with 57 tackles, including three for losses.
Now Morales is a key component of a veteran defensive backfield that includes safety Tyrese Wright, the Hawks’ leading tackler a year ago, safety Thomas Joe-Kamara, a transfer from Temple, and cornerback Mike Reid.
The unit serves as an anchor for a defensive unit that enters the season with some questions to answer.
The return of linebacker graduate Da’Quan Grimes, an All-Big South performer who missed last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, will help, with a host of others vying for playing time around him including Tyler Delgado, who played in nine games last season while battling injuries, Remi Johnson, Ryan Moran, freshman Charlie Sasso, Ben Joseph and Dale Sieczkowski.
On the defensive line, tackle Nick Shoemaker returns along with Zamon Robinson and Justin O’Bannon, with Buffalo transfer Chris King, Syracuse transfer Joe Rondi, Sheku Tonkara and Dominick Spano all in the mix.
“From what I’ve seen in practice so far this team is hungry and ready to compete,” Morales said. “We’re excited about building towards the season opener.”
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth NJ football: Howell's Eddie Morales now a top FCS cornerback