Jamie Morris grew up on an Army base, in a house with two strict parents and five older siblings, then played football for a series of coaches that were decidedly "old school" in their view of discipline and training.
"I am that product," says Morris proudly.
Last weekend Morris, the youngest of four brothers who ran wild on the Central Mass. football fields of the late 1970s and early '80s for Ayer High School, was back in town to be inducted into the Ayer Shirley Regional High School Hall of Fame.
He's 53 now and lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., with his daughter Kendall, 15, and their beloved and well-trained (as you would expect) golden retriever Sunny, 11. He hosts a popular sports talk radio show afternoons on WTKA, "The M-Zone," which focuses on University of Michigan football.
Jamie Morris went from Michigan to play three injury-hampered seasons in the NFL for the Redskins and Patriots. Amazingly, he still holds the NFL record for rushing attempts in a game, 45, set in an overtime game in 1988 while with Washington. Given the way the pass-crazy NFL is going, that record may be as secure as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
Back at the start
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
"I went through the Ayer public school system from grades 1 through 12," said Morris in a recent phone conversation. "We grew up on a military base (Fort Devens) and I thought it was great.
He is that product.
"When I was real young people saw things in me that I didn't see," said Morris. "I was just a chubby little snot-nosed kid wearing husky jeans. But people set the trail for me and proved you can go as far as you want in life with hard work and determination."
The trail-setters were his older brothers, Joe, Mike and Larry.
Joe, like Jamie just 5-foot-7, broke all the rushing records at Syracuse University (set by the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little and Larry Csonka). In 1985, with the New York Football Giants, Joe led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 21 while amassing 1,336 yards. The next season he ran for 1,516 yards and helped Bill Parcells' Giants win Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena.
Mike and Larry, seniors at Ayer when Jamie was a freshman, were also superb athletes who earned scholarships to Syracuse. Mike was the fastest high school 100-meter sprinter in the country (he later beat Carl Lewis) and Larry rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior at Ayer High.
In 1980, the three youngest brothers, coached by the legendary Chet Steele, led Ayer to a 10-0 record and a 50-0 win over Montachusett Regional in the CMass. Division 2 Super Bowl.
"We had a great team," Morris understated. "We could have beaten Brockton that year. Nobody could touch us, not North Middlesex, not Murdock, and definitely not Oakmont."
Jamie, who would lead his Panthers to another Super Bowl win two years later, for some reason had a particular dislike for Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham.
"I hated Oakmont," he laughed over the phone on Friday. "The Spartans. I'll always remember my junior year I ran for like 275 yards and three touchdowns against them. Their coach came over and said to coach Steele, 'I hope you're not retiring.' And coach Steele said, 'See that No. 23 over there, he's got one more year. I'm not going anywhere.' "
Steele and former AHS coach Owen Kilcoyne "were two great men who made a significant impact on my life," said Jamie.
Two others who made an impact were his loving parents, Earl and Addie. Earl, for many years the Groton postmaster, still lives in Shirley. Addie passed away in 1995.
"My parents demanded the best from all of us (sisters Wanda and Geraldine in addition to the four brothers). And it was not all about sports. The most important thing was school and hitting the books."
When it came time to pick a college, Jamie wanted to stay off the Syracuse train and forge his own identity. Plus the fact that the Orangemen were only looking at him as a defensive back.
He had a fascination with the University of Michigan since he was about eight years old.
"I just loved their helmets and their pageantry," he said.
"It came down to Michigan and Wisconsin. I came back from a Michigan recruiting trip and I was a little discouraged by the size of the running backs they brought in. There were guys 6-feet tall and 230 pounds," said Morris. "At Ayer they would have been interior linemen.
"But my brothers were always my biggest fans as well as my biggest critics, and they all said I could do it."
Joe had been playing in the East-West Shrine Game and told Michigan coach Bo Schembechler that his little brother always wanted to be a Wolverine. Schembechler took a look and offered a scholarship, expecting Jamie to be a decent little kick returner. Emphasis on the word little.
But in the third week of his freshman year, Jamie got into the lineup and didn't leave for four years, setting school records for rushing yards in a season and career. He still holds the mark for career all-purpose yards.
His four-year rushing total was at the time third best in Big Ten Conference history.
His final game was the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl when he ran for 234 yards and three TD's in a 28-24 win over Alabama and was named the bowl game's Most Valuable Player.
The Morris family is now widely scattered. Joe and Larry live in New Jersey, Mike is in Florida, Wanda in Georgia and Geraldine in North Carolina. His dad and a nephew, P.J., still reside in the Ayer-Shirley area.
Jamie lives near the Michigan campus. His talk show focuses on Michigan sports but he's also talking up the Red Sox these days and of course the Patriots, because "Tom Brady is one of us."
His daughter Kendall is a sophomore in high school. "I have a mini-me in female form," laughs Morris. "I know what she's going to do before she does it, because I did the same thing when I was her age."
Morris doesn't get back to Ayer much these days. "I have some great memories there but also some bad memories. That's where my mom died," he said. "After I fly in I'll go right to the cemetery and spend about an hour, talking to her."
Because he is that product.
Even if he was a chubby little snot-nosed kid wearing husky jeans.