The only walk-on freshman to start at quarterback in an SEC game is not the pinnacle of the record books. But it was enough — along with lessons on the business gridiron — to launch David Morris’ sports training startup QB Country, 5 years old and growing.
For David Morris, the grass is always greenest wherever there is a football involved. Since his childhood days growing up in Mobile, one of Morris’ great joys in life has been the simple act of walking into a backyard or onto a lush field and tossing the football around — hour after hour after glorious hour.
“Kids are inspired by different things, and that is a passion I’ve had ever since I was a little boy,” Morris says. “To this day, whenever I pass a grassy green field, I always go back to those days in Mobile when I was throwing the football with my friends and my brothers. There’s just something about a green grass field that has moved me for a long time.”
Of course, most children aren’t able to grow up and earn a living throwing the football, and the few who do are playing the game professionally. Morris, however, has discovered another way to bring home the bacon by tossing around the pigskin.
As the founder of QB Country, Morris oversees a seven-city operation that offers year-round quarterback training and development. The company, which was founded in 2010, teaches the physical and mental fundamentals of the position to players at all levels, from middle school to the pros.
“Everything we do is based on mechanics and the foundation of playing quarterback,” Morris says. “From footwork and the throwing motion, to film review and preparation. Once we establish the mechanics, we try to create muscle memory, then tempo. The goal is for steady growth, at whatever level.”
Morris was a star quarterback in high school at Mobile’s McGill-Toolen Catholic, where he was named a USA Today honorable mention All-American. But he did not receive a scholarship offer from any Division I college football programs. So after graduating from McGill-Toolen in 1998, Morris decided to try to make the team at the University of Mississippi as a walk-on.
Not only did Morris earn a spot on the roster, he was named the second-team quarterback. Then when first-string QB Romero Miller was injured late in the 1998 season, Morris suddenly found himself thrust into the starting role for the Rebels’ nationally televised game against rival Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night.
Even though Ole Miss lost that game 28-6, Morris earned a spot in the record books as the only true freshman walk-on quarterback to start a game in the Southeastern Conference. And since Miller was a senior that season, it appeared Morris had the inside track to be the team’s starter in 1999.
Instead, a series of events relegated Morris to the role of career backup. First, head coach Tommy Tuberville left Ole Miss to take over at Auburn, and David Cutcliffe replaced him. Now Cutcliffe was fresh from four years at the University of Tennessee, working with record-setting QB Peyton Manning. And during those four years, he had developed a strong relationship with the Manning family.
It just so happened that the same year Cutcliffe arrived at Ole Miss, Peyton’s younger brother, Eli, was preparing to start college. Cutcliffe convinced the future two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to sign with Mississippi, sending Morris to a permanent spot on the sidelines.
“That’s kind of where my playing career gets a little boring,” Morris says with a chuckle. “But being a career second-stringer taught me a lot about perseverance and hard work. It taught me about the reality that, even though you work your tail off, things don’t always go the way you want. It taught me a lot about teamwork and fitting in, knowing your role. And it definitely humbled me a little bit, which is usually a good thing.”
Upon his departure from Mississippi in 2002, Morris returned to Mobile and went to work at Courtney & Morris, a real estate appraisal company part owned by his father. Morris was beginning to accept that the days of football fun and games were over, when he suddenly began receiving an unexpected request.
“Fathers around town who knew I had played in the SEC would call and say, ‘Hey, will you work with my son and give him some pointers?’” Morris says. “Initially, coaching quarterbacks was just an excuse to get on the field again and throw the ball around and do something I love. Early on, I had no real intention to make it anything other than that.
“But then more and more people started calling, and every year I got a little busier. It eventually became a part-time gig, and around 2007 or 2008 I started thinking about whether I could do this full time and make a living. I spent a few years trying to figure out what the model would look like. Then in 2010 I realized that if I was going to try this, it was time to do it. So a part-time gig became full time.”
Morris says it was important that he spent several years working in real estate and did not attempt to create QB Country directly out of college. Like any good quarterback, Morris says he needed time to learn the Xs and Os of business and develop a solid game plan before rushing onto the field.
“One of the best things that happened to me was getting into real estate,” Morris says. “Learning the management side of a business — handling contracts and negotiations and properties — really translated well into this pursuit. It’s definitely different territory, but a lot of the same business principles apply.”
Morris is quick to say that QB Country is not a quarterback “camp” where dozens of players arrive and receive instruction en masse. He prefers the term “training group,” consisting of only three or four players at a time, as well as some one-on-one teaching.
“It’s hard to establish close relationships at a large camp,” Morris says. “It was important to me to be able to really look a kid in the eyes and push him and make him understand that he’s not just a number out there. I want him to feel like he’s getting some real attention.”
Since starting in Mobile, Morris has hired coaches to run QB Country programs in six other cities: Birmingham, Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Orlando and Richmond. Each coach gives weekly updates to Morris, who also makes trips to visit the various sites. Morris says the key is finding the right person to lead the training in each city, which is why he plans to expand slowly.
“It’s all about the coach for us,” Morris says. “We’re not going to go into an area unless we have the right guy. We’re hiring former college quarterbacks or coaches who are well known in those locations.”
But even as QB Country grows, the core of the business to Morris will always be confined to that small grass field, where every flick of the football makes him feel like a kid again.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Morris says. “I’ll walk out onto the field and think about how fortunate I am to be here, teaching kids and challenging them. It’s so rewarding. It’s really been a great experience.”
Cary Estes and Matthew Coughlin are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Estes is based in Birmingham and Coughlin in Pensacola.