RUPERT — Two weeks after returning home from an LDS mission, Skylar “Poke” Morgan was back at the place where he became famous — Minico High’s Bill Matthews Field — to watch the Spartans’ state quarterfinal game against Skyview.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” he said. “But it’s weird because some of the kids on the team now, it’s amazing how big they’ve gotten since the last time I’ve seen them.”
Equally amazing is how small Poke has gotten. Once a thick and physical weight room junkie, two years in the Dominican Republic have left him 30 pounds lighter, but perhaps 30 years wiser.
Morgan says his experience in the tiny Caribbean country helped him sort out priorities, and he’s decided to end his football playing career.
“I sat back and thought about life more,” Morgan said. “I think the experience that I went through changed my outlook on life and what I wanted.”
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Just four years ago, Poke Morgan ran wild all over Bill Matthews Field. He rewrote Minico’s record books, rushing for 2,062 yards during his senior season and 4,300 yards in his career. He holds the school records for touchdowns in a game (6), a season (30) and a career (62).
The Spartans had a 25-5 record with Morgan in the backfield. In 2008 he carried Minico to its only state semifinal appearance in school history and was named Idaho’s Class 4A Player of the Year.
Morgan accepted a scholarship offer from Idaho State, and wound up playing eight games as a true freshman. His Bengal future looked bright.
“I felt like there was a lot on my shoulders, but I’ve always loved challenges,” Morgan said.
A lifelong member of the LDS Church, Morgan initially had no desire to go on a mission. But after his freshman year, he had a change of heart.
“The thing that hit me, I thought how could I really tell my kid someday that he needed to go on a mis-sion if I never did?” Morgan said.
According to Morgan, the ISU coaching staff, upon hearing of his mission plans, gave him an ultimatum: Stay and play football, or you won’t have a scholarship waiting when you get home.
The decision was easy.
“I love football,” Morgan said. “Football has always had my heart. I’ll love the game until the day I die. But I feel like I would be putting off more important things and that I could help other people. I’m being selfish to go play football.”
Up until halfway through his two-year mission, Morgan had planned to play football again after his return, even if that meant walking on somewhere.
But then one day everything changed.
A storm caused massive flooding in a village where Morgan was serving. He came across a 7-year-old boy who had no clothes besides his underwear and an old shirt wrapped around his dog. His house had been swept away by the flooding river, taking his mom, dad and two brothers with it. The boy was the only one who made it out safely. Morgan and his companion helped him find a relative to stay with.
“We got home that night and I took it hard. I prayed to God to ask why that had to happen to that little boy,” Morgan said. “It made me realize the importance of my family. It put the desire in my heart to want to come back and just want to be around my family.”
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Since returning home Oct. 21, Poke Morgan has hit the next chapter of his life the same way he used to hit the hole as a running back — full speed ahead.
He’s already engaged to Jill Hepworth, his girlfriend since high school, and the couple plans to marry on Dec. 12.
“Getting married right now, I know I want to give Jill the time she deserves and be the right guy for her,” Morgan said. “I know if I went back (to football), I know the schedule, I know how much time it takes up and what you have to put in. I don’t feel like I could be the guy she deserves.”
Morgan is now working full time as a manager at his family’s calf ranch. The same work ethic that lifted him to become one of the best high school football players in Idaho — and in Minico history — will continue to serve him well.
“I’ll miss it. I think I love the game so much because it taught me a lot,” Morgan said. “The missionary I was, and the guy I am today, that hard work I learned from football. I know today if I work hard at my job and try to be the best guy I can, then I’ll see the benefits of it.”