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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Compassionate act brings national attention

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cave City football coach Jon Bradley pictured with Thamail Morgan, the player who knelt at the two yard line after foregoing a touchdown at the Sept. 18 Yellville-Summit game in respect for the family, team and community who lost Kymball Duffy, one of their teammates in a Sept. 11 auto accident. The game was the team's first game since the incident. Photo/Tammy Curtis
As inspirational writer William Arthur Ward said, "Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records."

Nothing could be truer than the act of kindness that has brought national attention to Cave City football player Thamail Morgan.

With his team already up by two touchdowns, Morgan knelt in respect at the 2-yard line in the final seconds of the Cavemen's Sept. 18 home football game against Yellville-Summit.

Morgan's compassionate show of condolence came on the heels of the recent loss of Yellville-Summit football player Kymball Duffy.

Duffy, a two-way starter for the Panthers, along with four other Yellville-Summit football players, were involved in a Sept. 11 automobile accident just hours before the team was scheduled to take on Salem.

Duffy was killed in the accident and the other four players were transported to hospitals in Mountain Home and Springfield.

With the game against Salem cancelled, Yellville-Summit's trip to Cave City a week later marked the Panthers' return to action in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Cave City Coach Jon Bradley, who was more than a little concerned about the way the game would play out emotionally for both teams, said both squads had stickers with Duffy's number "72" on their helmets for the game.

"Cave City is no stranger to death -- in the four years I have been here; I have seen five or six kids killed," Bradley said.

Recently, Cave City senior Alex Cossey was severely injured in a car wreck. "Although, thankfully, in Alex's case, it wasn't a death, we know how it feels," said Bradley.

And according to Bradley, the feel of the game that would soon become a national topic, was different from the outset. Both teams joined midfield for an emotional moment of remembrance for Duffy before beginning the game.

But despite the somber tone, when the game began, Cave City scored three times in the first quarter, even though Bradley said his kids felt bad because they knew Yellville-Summit was emotionally and physically drained.

Despite liberally substituting throughout the course of the game, with less than a minute left to play, Cave City led 34-16.

With time about to expire, Yellville-Summit kicked the ball deep and it bounced right to Morgan who was lined up as kick returner. The explosive-Morgan started running and broke several tackles, before cutting back across to their sideline.

"We were all yelling at him to get down, but he couldn't hear us." As he was slowing at the 50 yard line, Bradley said, "He could have walked in; the closest guy to him was one of our guys."

Only Morgan didn't walk into the end zone for what would have been a meaningless TD.

Instead, what Morgan did next not only symbolizes a new beginning and a sort of wiping the slate clean for him, but it has also became the focus of national media attention and a steady stream of phone calls to Cave City School.

Morgan stopped at the 2-yard line, stepped back to the 5-yard line and then simply kneeled down.

"It was just the right thing to do," said Bradley.

Morgan, who is in his first year at Cave City after transferring from Newport High School, has had his share of adversity in the last year.

A violation of school policy in January at Newport left Morgan, who was sought after by many Division I programs, including Arkansas, Florida State and Ole Miss, ineligible to play football his senior year.

Morgan caught the attention of college coaches last year with his performance in the state playoffs against Heber Springs. Morgan racked up 15 tackles, a sack and also forced two fumbles on defense, while notching 145 yards receiving and two touchdowns on offense.

Although Morgan was eligible for basketball at Newport, he weighed his options and knew his chances of getting a football scholarship were slim to non-existent, so he made the decision to transfer to Cave City.

Bradley said he sat down with Morgan and set out conditions, including extra weight and conditioning training to get him back up to where he needed to be physically, if he was to transfer to Cave City and play football.

Bradley also suggested Morgan's meeting with a youth pastor for counseling.

And to his credit, Morgan said he knows he has no one to blame but himself for his mistake at Newport. So, instead of dwelling on it, he's moving forward with his life, doing the best he can.

Bradley said, "What he did, I don't condone, but it really isn't a huge thing and in the big scheme of things, it doesn't separate him from about 60-percent of high school kids."

Once enrolled at Cave City, Morgan has done everything asked of him by the Cavemen coaching staff.

"It is impossible not to like the kid. He is a great kid," the coach said.

And now, the entire nation is getting a peek at the new, improved Thamail Morgan.

Following Morgan's show of respect during the football game, national media attention was cast on Cave City.

Bradley said a story about Morgan kneeling in respect for Yellville-Summit appeared on the Arkansas Varsity Web site first and then was picked up nationally by Rivals.com, which led to the article being posted on Yahoo's home page Sept. 24-25.

The coach also said it was on Headline News. ESPN, CBS and the Bonnie Hunt Show, and that others have called him requesting information or interviews.

This national attention has led to complete strangers calling the school to comment on the act of kindness.

Cave City Coach Jamie King said he took several calls, including one from a lady in San Diego who called to ask if there was something she could do financially to help the school because she was so impressed by Morgan's act of kindness.

King went on to tell her that the act was spontaneous, not scripted, and wasn't in any way for publicity.

The Cave City High School, the coaching staff, football team and especially Morgan, want the public to know that this act wasn't about publicity, but merely doing what is right in light of the tragedy suffered by the Duffy family.

"It is a small town southern thing. That is just how we do things. I think any kid we have would have done the same thing. I take some pride in that. That is how we coach our kids and the coaches are good examples both on and off the field," Bradley said. "We talk about that stuff."

Bradley spoke with Yellville-Summit Head Coach Calvin Mallet who said Duffy's parents said if their son's death and Morgan's display of respect and compassion brought the community together and closer to the Lord, their son would have been very proud.

As for Morgan, he could not believe the national attention his act has brought.

Morgan was quick to say the real reason for the kneel was because of the loss of Duffy, not his new start, which has seemingly been the main focus of the media attention the story has received.

He said the focus has shifted from the family's loss to him and that was never his intention.

Saying he was humbled by the outpouring of support, Morgan gave all the credit to God, his family, coaches and team mates for the support he has received through his difficult transition.

He compared the events that ultimately led to his playing football for Cave City to being on the very top and falling hard to the rock bottom.

Morgan gave his condolences to the Duffy family for their loss and said he would love to do something to help them.

Both Morgan and his coach said that he is remaining focused despite the extreme amount of publicity the event has caused.

Morgan said he wants to help keep his team focused so they can win a conference and state title this year, both standing as yet another true testament to overcoming adversity and moving forward.

And Bradley said Morgan has not let this turn of events go to his head.

Even as he was being interviewed minutes before the school's pep rally for their Friday night game against Piggot, Morgan said, "I am just ready to out there and beat Piggott."

Morgan laughed and commented on his face being on the Yahoo home page.

He said, "Being on there with Obama, Beyonce and a 16-pound baby... it don't get much better than that."

Morgan said he realizes from his tough past that there will be people who are watching his every move and waiting anxiously for him to make another mistake.

When asked what he thinks about those who are determined to be negative, he simply said, "Without negative people, there would be no positive people."

Morgan's transformation since his transfer to Cave City, both physically as well as mentally and spiritually, was evident when he quoted scripture about God speaking to a mountain and it moving. He artfully compared his transformation from Newport to the player he is today at Cave City.

Morgan said while he was in Newport it was like climbing a mountain in a blizzard with no tools just his hands and trying unsuccessfully to get over it. He said he prayed about it a lot and since he has, the "mountain" from his past has moved and good things are happening. Morgan said although it is still tough, he is so thankful for his second chance.

When asked about the seconds prior to his making the decision to forego the touchdown against Yellville-Summit, he said as he was running down the field that night he was filled with mixed emotions on whether to score or not to score.

He said his teammates pushed him forward and he just took the kneel. He said the people at Cave City have been so welcoming and he loves his team like brothers. "Coming to Cave City has been like a rebirth, the old person is dead and gone," Morgan said. He now looks forward to coming to school every day, something he didn't do while in Newport. By the look of his Facebook and Myspace page, the overwhelming support he has received from students from Cave City and around the nation is unquestionable. With a huge smile on his face and proudly wearing his Caveman jersey, Morgan said, "I look pretty nice in red and black."

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