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Tiger out of its cage: Freshman Aidan Morris does it all in vital conference win

Aidan Morris’ distance covered Friday night won’t be highlighted in the scoresheet. 

It won’t emphasize the fact that Morris drew a foul in front of the Rutgers bench in the 42nd minute. Or that he drew another foul and yellow card just a minute later on the opposite side of the field.

It’s the little things each night. The hustle, the small touches to teammates and the clean passes to set up runs through the middle of the field have helped progress IU’s offense through the course of the season, including in its 3-0 win over Rutgers on Friday night. 

The Indiana freshman class has been anything and everything IU coach Todd Yeagley could’ve hoped for this season. Morris has been a crucial part of that.

“He’s a dominant personality,” Yeagley said. “He’s one that we want to have the ball a lot. He’s starting to really find ways to affect the game without the ball which is something I’m really excited about. We’re getting him to be more forward-thinking to get him into the box to make a play like he did tonight.”

IU entered halftime scoreless with Rutgers but quickly unloaded an offensive assault in the second half. It was a Morris free kick that led to the opening goal of the game, a header from Joris Ahlinvi from the foot of Morris that was buried into the bottom-left corner of the net. 

Just under 20 minutes later, Morris was part of another score that practically put the game on ice. It was Morris that played a ball for Joe Schmidt that led to his first career goal in the 72nd minute.

If that wasn’t enough, Morris put away the game himself in the 79th minute after finishing a rebound into the back of the net for his second goal of the season. That goal finalized the 3-0 victory.

He finally got to play a full 90 minutes for the first time since getting nicked up in a training session recently and being limited in practice. Morris only got into the Evansville game on Tuesday in the last portion of the second half.

“It was awesome,” Morris said about playing the full 90 minutes. “I had some adrenaline rushing and I think that really helped me tonight.”

Yeagley called Morris “a caged tiger” as he eagerly awaited his time to enter the game Tuesday against Evansville. His energy is relentless and his attention to detail never wavers.

In the first match of the season against Pittsburgh, he was so amped up that he was nearly sent off with a straight red after confronting a defender for a hard tackle.

The emotion has been controlled and better used for bursts through the midfield and physical runs down the flanks, but the mindset is still there.

He’s quickly turned himself into one of the most versatile players in not only the Big Ten conference but the entire nation. When he doesn’t have the ball, he’s doing his best to position himself or to dispossess the ball from the opponent.

Morris wouldn’t be considered an offensive-minded player out of his role in the midfield, but he can adjust as the game goes along. Yeagley can move him to play back when IU’s defense needs help, but can also play him in an attacking role when it needs a goal.

“It’s just about finalizing my game,” Morris said of his play in the midfield. “Every time I step on the field I try and score a goal. It helps me look better and helps the team at the end of the day.

When Top Drawer Soccer released its list of the top 100 freshmen in the nation, Morris sat atop the list — the best freshman in the nation.

It’s not in the nature of the IU program to pay attention to lists like that, especially not as the Hoosiers go for back-to-back Big Ten regular season titles.

But it’s something to remember as the season winds down. 

Through 14 games, he has two goals and five assists and is arguably one of IU’s most versatile players. He’s been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and has been named to the Top Drawer Soccer National Team of the Week.

“He wants to win and be pushed,” Yeagley said. “And we’re doing that. But he’s still only 17. He’s young and you’ve got to keep that in mind.”

It’s unknown if Morris will stick around for more than one season. His freshman campaign in Bloomington has been enough to garner talk about a potential leap to the pros. 

He’s perhaps the best freshman in the league, if not the country. And he can make an argument for being the best overall player in the conference. 

If this is the only year that Morris plays as a Hoosier, it’s time we appreciate just how good he’s been.

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