On a gray, unseasonably warm Tuesday afternoon in October, the only glob of color at Muncie Central’s football practice is the red facade of Muncie Liquors across the river.

The Bearcats are running through seven-on-seven drills when senior defensive back Gino Taylor is blocked by a receiver, the ball carrier bursting past him. Head coach Adam Morris’s sharp whistle pierced the air, but where other coaches might yell and shriek, his voice was calm — yet still firm.

“Hey, we need to go inside that block, Gino.”

Morris is wearing black shorts, a black cap and a black Muncie Central sweatshirt. Even his wedding band is black. It’s a simple look for the 26-year-old, but underneath is a man doing his best to be a role model for his players.

“I tell people that there’s nothing as fun as hanging out with high school kids all day — there’s also nothing as terrible as hanging out with a bunch of high school kids,” he said. “I try to be personable and relate to them … but there are certain things to me, professionally, that are non-negotiable, like language.”

A lot of the lessons Morris passes on to his players he learned at Ball State, where he played football from 2008 to 2011. He was a team captain as a senior and started every game of both his junior and senior seasons at defensive tackle.

“People have dreams,” he said. “And all of mine have become a reality in Muncie.”

Ball State football

Morris didn’t play much as a freshman in 2008, when former head coach Brady Hoke led the Cardinals to a 12-0 regular season record and an appearance in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game.

“It was a dream to play college football, and I did that at Ball State,” Morris said. “I had an unbelievable experience. Sure, there was a season or two I wish we would’ve won more games, but my experience as a student-athlete at the school was amazing.”

Hoke left for San Diego State after that season, and Stan Parrish was promoted to head coach for the 2009 season. But Morris committed to Ball State for his education, not the head coach.

“The first visit that I took to Ball State, the field wasn’t even made yet,” Morris said. “They hadn’t even put down the new turf, the new press box and all that. But the Teachers College, I think, is what put it over the edge.”

Parrish’s hiring also opened up a spot for assistant coach Joey Lynch, who was kept on staff when Pete Lembo was hired in 2011, Morris’ senior season. Still on staff as current head coach Mike Neu’s offensive coordinator, Lynch said he and Morris clicked that first year they were together.

“Our relationship just grew from there,” Lynch said. “Of course [former Muncie Central head coach Brad] Seiss spoke very, very highly of him as a young coach. That’s why he’s in the position he is right now. … Great kid, fun guy to be around, really knows football. He’s in coaching for the right reasons and those kids are awful lucky.”

Morris didn’t redshirt, but he changed his major from social studies education to special education while he was in school.

“That kind of threw me back a year, so I ended up having a fifth year of school, which I think was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said. “Actually, that fifth year while I was finishing up school, I was actually an assistant here at Central.”

He left Muncie to be an assistant coach at Indianapolis’ Warren Central and Lawrence Central for a couple of seasons. A few of his former players are even playing for Ball State now.

But when Seiss left Muncie Central in 2015, Morris jumped at the chance to fill the void.

“Obviously, I had a dream to be a head coach, and for Central to give me that in Muncie — so Muncie is special to me,” Morris said.

Coaching philosophy

Now he’s giving current Ball State students the same chance he got as a fifth-year senior. Over the summer, for example, Morris supervised senior safety Corey Hall’s coaching internship. Hall said Morris is phenomenal.

“He’s one of those coaches where you know a lot of people talk about a players’ coach, where the players really respect him,” Hall said. “They love him.”

Morris does his best to emphasize character. He said it was the common thread between the three head coaches he played for at Ball State, and, as a result, he does his best to treat his players fairly because adults often forget they are still in high school — even if they do look like grown men in shoulder pads.

“Number one, are we holding ourselves, the coaches, to the same standards we’re holding the kids to?” Morris said. “And then number two, how would I react if my boss came at me like that?”

That level of empathy is one of the traits that stood out to Hall over the summer.

“He knows when the right time is to get on a player, and also [when to] not really scream at a player, just be really calm,” Hall said. “I think that’s another reason why all the players respect him a lot.”

But it’s not just the players Morris wants to impress. His goal is to run a “first-class program” that isn’t defined by championships but by the people it produces.

“I want parents — when they see our program, when they see the coaches with the kids — they’re like, ‘I want my kids around those men,’” Morris said.

Homecoming

One of Morris' favorite tricks is to take his players to Ball State practices. It sets a good example for the high schoolers and also keeps him connected with the program. It’s a little different now, though, because none of his former teammates are still on the roster.

“That really makes me feel old,” he said with a laugh. “Makes me feel like an alumnus, I should say.”

It’s a two-way street with Ball State’s football program. When Lynch or another coach comes calling, he gives them an honest assessment of his players. 

In return, Morris will pick the brains of Ball State coaches when he gets the chance. He also tries to make it to Scheumann Stadium as often as he can.

“Once you leave the program, you never really leave,” Lynch said. “Your role is just different. When you have players that pour their heart into this program and have success, it’s great when they come back and watch the guy in their old number.”

With Muncie Central on a bye before facing Anderson in the state playoffs Oct. 28, Morris will be in the stands for the Homecoming game against Akron Saturday. His three college roommates will also be back in town.

“I loved my time at Ball State; I really did,” Morris said. “It’s part of why me and my wife came back. My parents, right, they still wear their Ball State stuff. I think me and my wife – just our whole family – we love the school. There’s some things they can’t prepare you for, but I feel like I was unbelievably prepared the first time I stepped into a classroom.”

His lessons, however, extend outside of the classroom.

After practice Tuesday, Morris could hardly be heard over the shouts and laughter of teenagers that were just told they had an off day. But instead of cutting them loose, he had made it a point to tell them to stay out of trouble.

Like the kind of trouble that comes from that red building across the river.