When Dalen Morris signed with the United States Naval Academy as a senior at Madison County High School in Alabama, he understood what would be required of him if he ended up doing his four years at the school.

Those who graduate from a United States service academy must serve for at least five years. The rules were no different for Morris, who was a quarterback for Navy from 2017 to 2020.

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So how is he currently on the University of Hawaii football team’s roster?

Morris got stationed on Oahu last February and enrolled at UH-Manoa to pursue a master’s degree in public administration.

“There is an obligation and I’m serving currently,” Morris told KHON2 following Friday’s spring practice.

With a desire to play football again, Morris reached out to Alema Kapoi, a current UH graduate assistant, to express his interest in walking on with the team. Kapoi and Morris were former teammates at Navy, although Kapoi transferred to UH after two years with the Midshipmen.  

Following a walk-on tryout invite, Morris made the team and was granted an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-impacted 2020 season.

“I might be the first guy to ever do this,” Morris said. “COVID kind of blessed me that way.”

Morris’ time at Navy overlapped with handful of players from Hawaii, including ‘Iolani’s Keoni-Kordell Makekau, Campbell’s Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa, Kamehameha’s Akalea Kapono, Radford’s Darrellson Masaniai, Kahuku’s Tausili Fiatoa, Punahou’s Trent Shiraki and Vincent Terell, and Kapoi.

Morris, of course, was coached at Navy by Hawaii and Radford alumnus Ken Niumatalolo, who was let go by the school in December.

“It’s disappointing because coach Ken was there longer than I’ve been alive. He was there for a long time and he developed a brotherhood over there. That’s a big thing,” Morris said. “The way in which it happened, I was pretty disappointed. … But that’s life.

“We talked about developing as men off the field. That’s probably the biggest takeaway I’ve gotten from (Niumatalolo). On the field, you’re gonna put the work in and that’s gonna be what it is, but off the field, it’s about being great husbands, fathers and contributing to the community.”

After biding his time for three seasons, Morris was named Navy’s starting quarterback prior to the 2020 season but was pulled early in the team’s first game against BYU, completing two of his four pass attempts for 16 yards to go with two rushing yards on seven attempts in a 55-3 loss.

The following week, Morris entered the game off the bench and completed six of his 11 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, including 13 rushes for 23 yards in a 27-24 comeback victory over Tulane.

In three total seasons, Morris completed 33 of his 65 pass attempts for 579 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran the ball 73 times for 66 net yards and two touchdowns while running Navy’s trademark option offense.

At Hawaii, Morris is one of six quarterbacks competing for the opportunity to ring in a new era of offense with the ‘Bows set to return to the run and shoot.

Despite running the option at Navy, Morris also crossed paths with former Hawaii receiver Billy Ray Stutzmann, who was Navy’s receivers coach from 2019 to 2021 as Niumatalolo looked to expand the team’s passing game. Morris remembers learning certain run and shoot route concepts from Stutzmann, who is currently the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Utah Tech.

“Billy Ray, he’s a great guy. I texted him a few months ago,” Morris said. “He did teach me a lot.”

Early repetitions in an orange Hawaii practice jersey for Morris were promising, as he threw deep touchdown passes to Landon Sims and Alex Perry during the first day of spring practice on Monday during live reps.

“There’s definitely a learning curve. I love to sit back in the pocket and throw deep balls so to be able to replicate that into the season, that’s the goal,” Morris said.

“It feels like I’m back in high school. My senior year of high school, I didn’t take a snap under center, threw the ball around a lot so I love that but the transition to the triple (option) was a big step but the transition to the run and shoot is going to be a big step, especially with the terminology. Just gotta come out here and work every day and put my best foot forward.”

Morris has been effusive of his time on Oahu so far, joking that the military should allow him more time to live in the islands but likely won’t. Despite the enjoyment, Hawaii has been far from a vacation for him, especially with football being added to his plate again.

“The day to day is pretty hectic, especially in the middle of my week,” Morris said. “Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays are my toughest days, longest days. I’m getting acclimated to it. I don’t sleep too much. But hey, the human body can operate on four hours of sleep. That’s the goal every night.”

Morris could very well end up becoming a pioneer for other service academy alumni looking to play one last year of college football. But it probably won’t be for long, as the NCAA only granted 2020 as an extra year for football players and none after that.

“I wanna be on the field. I wanna play college football. I wanna be a leader for this team,” Morris said. “I wanna embrace my role and do whatever this team needs from me and do it to the best of my ability.”