He's energetic yet reserved. He's animated yet modest. He's active yet passive. He wears a constant, almost contagious grin around the Sea Devils facility and is even considered by some as the happiest player wearing the teal and blue. But for linebacker Shawn Morgan, smiling is simply a reflection of his current situation.
Signed by the Green Bay Packers in January 2005 and allocated to NFL Europe, Morgan has been out of football since his senior season at Fayetteville State in 2002. Over the past three years he has coveted his chance to return, and now with the Sea Devils, the long-awaited opportunity has arrived.
"It feels good to be back on the field because I felt like there was something missing," Morgan said. "People say I always walk around with a smile, but I have a reason to be happy...I know what I can do, and I'm glad the Sea Devils and the NFL have given me the opportunity so I can actually show others what I already know. Being back is exciting. It's refreshing."
Originally entering college as a running back and safety, Morgan was moved to linebacker his sophomore season with the Broncos. Despite establishing the school's single-season record with 22.5 tackles for a loss in his senior campaign and the career record with 35.5, "The Legend" went undrafted and never signed with an NFL team as a rookie free agent. Nonetheless, he continued to train for a moment such as this.
"I've always been the underdog, and that's just motivated me even more," Morgan said. "People would say I was too small to do this or that, but I'm going to prove people wrong. I've always been misjudged, which is why I use the saying, 'Never judge a book by its cover,' because you never know what a person can do until you actually see them perform."
Proving people wrong isn't anything new for Morgan. His surprises extend back to his Pop Warner football days when he was a running back and linebacker for the Long Beach Steelers in South Carolina.
"I remember this game when we were playing the Redskins," he said. "I was running the ball and this kid who was a lot bigger than me hit me, and when we hit, it was a little train wreck. He stayed down; I walked two or three steps, fell down and got right back up. My pops came out on the field, but the next play I was back in the game."
He continued to use that hard-nosed style in high school, where he played numerous positions at Havelock High in North Carolina. As a running back, a safety and an outside linebacker, Morgan was often referred to as a "machine" for his versatility. He also dabbled in basketball and ran relays on the track team during his prep career, but his heart belonged in football, mostly because of one man.
"Coach Wilbur Sasser," said Morgan. "That's one coach I'll never forget. He's been an inspiration to me because he used to always stay on me. I've never been a quitter, but I remember one time thinking I was going to quit mainly because my cousin was going to also. Coach Sasser got on me and let me have it. But he's always been like a father figure to me on the field."
Which is why when Morgan became a Sea Devil, he located Sasser's number so he could let him know about his new role. It's the best news he's been able to share other than his marriage to his wife Latoshia last July. Until now, Morgan had worked several jobs to make ends meet while he trained for his return to the gridiron. He sold cars at Team Dodge of Stone Mountain. He worked at Premier Transportation, a medical transportation company. But his most difficult task involved a well-known, almost notorious product.
"I sold Kirby vacuums," Morgan said. "Now that's a tough job, going into somebody's house and convincing them to buy a vacuum. It's a good product, but man that was tough. It was almost like hustling someone."
Along with his assortment of career paths, Morgan also did some mentoring with younger children.
"I was going to do this program called 'Another Way Out' but I never got the chance to get involved with it before coming here, but I like to help little cousins or just any younger guys. If I know something that can help them, I like to give them that knowledge, especially if I see them going through the same things that I've gone through. I just like helping others."
Even when talking about his plans after football, Morgan stresses giving back. Along with opening up a resort, he says he wants to start several different businesses in order to benefit those around him rather than just himself. That non-selfish mentality stems from his childhood, when his parents, who are both ministers, gave him the love and compassion a child needs.
"I have a very supportive family," he said. "Just because they're ministers, it's not like they were really strict because they understand you're going to learn in life. Life is about lessons and experiences, and they were always there 100%. They're good folks, very good folks."
Now as a married man, Morgan will get the chance to pass on that type of upbringing, as he and his wife Latoshia are expecting their first child, Shawn Jr., later this year. One thing Morgan plans on sharing with the little one is his love for fishing, despite knowing his son will probably have the same reaction to the pastime as he once did.
"When I was young, I hated fishing because my father used to keep me out there all day," Morgan said. "When you're a kid and it's Saturday, you want to go play, but my father would have me out there fishing. They teach you to be patient, but I was like, 'If a fish doesn't bite right now, I don't have patience for it.' But now I really enjoy fishing."
Before he'll have a chance to do any of those things again, however, Morgan will have to finish his first season of NFL Europe, but with his vivacious attitude, that shouldn't be a problem. The Sea Devils' season opener versus Cologne will mark Morgan's first-ever live professional game, and his excitement level is nearly uncontainable, in part due to his fellow playmakers and the direction they are moving.
"The linebacking core looks pretty good," he said. "Everybody's learning, including learning different positions, but once we get it all together, I think we're going to be good. We're getting to know each other, and when that happens, you know what each person is thinking so when you're out there on the field, you communicate well. Once we get it together, I believe we're going to be tough. Hamburg is going to see some real action."
Linebackers coach Charles 'Yogi' Jones agrees and says the wide range of athletes making up this unit can be very effective during the season.
"One thing I can say about the entire group is that they're athletic and they can run," said Jones. "They learn well and they're working hard every day to improve...They're starting to talk and communicate with each other and help each other out in certain passing situations and assignments...They're a good group of guys that are fun to work with."
If the group can continue to gel together, they may contribute to achieving Morgan's number one priority - winning the World Bowl. But in his quest for the championship, Morgan also has one little selfish desire.
"I just want to show the world that you can't just look at somebody and judge them," he said. "All the people that told me I can't do this, I just want to show them they're wrong. Like I said, never judge a book by its cover."