Lee Hays made a mental note the first week of Texas Tech spring football practice: Tell Tony Morales not to hike the ball so hard.
“We’ve actually got to slow his snaps down a little bit,” the Tech offensive line coach said. “He’s about to blow the quarterback’s hands off, because he’s excited about getting back out there.”
Morales, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound junior from Arlington Houston, says he’s the healthiest he’s been since spring practice his freshman year. Once a top recruit in the Red Raiders’ 2011 signing class, Morales has missed each of his first three seasons with injuries.
“There’s been a lot of 6 a.m. rehabs, three years in a row,” he said.
Morales hopes to finally put all the physical problems behind him and compete for a spot in the two-deep. Hays and the Tech offensive staff are gradually working him back into the mix this spring as one of several center candidates.
For that, they’re grateful.
Morales missed 2011 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, missed 2012 with a strained knee ligament and missed 2013 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. In each case, Morales got hurt just before the season started.
“You’ve got to feel for him,” Hays said, “because it seems like every time he gets going and he’s been working hard, something happens. And the injuries aren’t a bump here or a bruise there. They’re something that requires surgery.
“But just watching him right now move around without the pads, I’m excited about his potential. ... But we’ve got to be smart so that something doesn’t happen again.”
Morales’ being a non-factor for three seasons isn’t what anyone expected when he signed with Tech out of high school. At the time, Tony Morales was a high-profile recruit, a little more highly rated than his twin brother Alfredo. Yet, Alfredo Morales cracked the Tech starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and made a combined 12 starts the last two years at guard.
Along the way, he’s provided moral support for his twin.
“He’s been encouraging,” Tony Morales said. “He’s motivated me to get better. Going to rehab every day at 6 o’clock for three years in a row isn’t fun, but sometimes when I fell down, he kind of brought me back up. He told me to keep going, and it’s going to get better.”
Tech coaches would love for Morales to stay healthy for a change, both to see what he can do and because the Red Raiders can use the center depth. Jared Kaster, who started all 13 games last season, is coming off a January shoulder surgery of his own that has him sidelined for spring.
Hays wants to have three capable centers, so he’s also investing some time to develop both Morales brothers, Baylen Brown and Joey White at center. Most of the candidates are primarily guards.
“I’m just going out there, trying to get back in it and will compete come camp,” Tony Morales said.
Morales said he considers himself 100 percent and “ready to go.” Tech coaches will be careful and limit his contact, though, so as not to aggravate his most recent surgically repaired shoulder.
“He’s still getting back in shape,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “but he’s grinding hard and looks physical. We’re really pleased with his progress so far, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks he’ll get in a little better shape and get going.”
It’s been a while since Morales was in that position. He says he’s excited to be back on the field and involved with his teammates again.
“It’s just part of the game,” he said. “It was frustrating, but I knew I had to grind and get back to the field. I know what I’m capable of. I’m finally healthy, so I’m ready to go out there and prove myself.”
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