Derek Morris fights for a football comeback

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- For Derek Morris, jumping over obstacles now seems easy.

"I never had a stable home so I was always an athlete as a young kid," he said.

It was football that helped him find an escape - not only from his family's financial problems, but his father's drug problems.

"I played football, and I became really good at it, and I said, 'okay, I'm going to try to get to the NFL so maybe we can get a stable house, and I could help my dad with rehab,'" Morris said.

He eventually ended up at NC State on a football scholarship from 2003 until 2005, and as a junior, he declared for the 2006 NFL Draft.

That's when the majority of his bad luck began.

"It all happened back to back to back to back, and it was like my worst nightmare," Morris said.

He went undrafted, and then the lingering effects of a college shoulder injury contributed to his cuts from the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals in 2006 - both stints that lasted less than a month each.

But he was also dealing with problems at home - the same issues that he rarely mentioned during his days as a Wolfpack player.

"We were evicted every other month. We stayed in a lot of extended stays," he said. "I remember moving into a house, and my sister didn't unpack her stuff and I asked her, 'Why you ain't unpacking?' and she said, 'We're just going to get evicted anyway,' so it was rough."

A four month stint with the Detroit Lions from December 2008 until April 2009 provided some relief but ended in heart break - and then a literal fight for Morris's life.

"This wasn't a normal blood clot," Morris said. "The lung doctor said my whole lung was full of clots. I was walking dead."

Morris was rushed to the hospital and after initial tests, things turned for the worse. According to Morris,the doctors thought his blood clots resulted from either stress or travel. At the time, he was married and was making frequent, long road trips to Atlanta to see his now ex-wife.

"I thought it was a dream, like 'let's wake up.' I would say the third day I was in the hospital, that's when it all hit me," he said. '"I was like, 'Alright doc, when am I getting out of here? I gotta go train. I got an eating regiment I gotta do to stay in shape, and he told me, 'We're trying to get you to make it through the night.'"

Suddenly, Derek Morris's dream of playing football - at any level - was shut down permanently.

"That's when it all got serious for me," he said. "I was lost. I've been training for this since I was 15, it's what I knew how to do. I wasn't trying to go and do anything else."

Morris's new life, without football, involved working odd jobs. He worked a front desk job at Holton Career and Resource Center and also worked at Food Lion to get by.

But through chaos often comes hope, and for Morris, a promising message in 2011 reignited his dream.

"They ended up clearing me," he said. "I'm here, and I'm just training and fighting back to get to the NFL and play football."

Morris returned to the turf for the first time in 2013 as a member of the Lincoln Haymakers, an indoor football team.

"It was emotional," he said, "the first time I got to put an actual helmet on and pads on and do what I do best, which is playing football."

Morris hasn't heard from any NFL teams, but remains hopeful. He trains at D1 in Raleigh with his former Wolfpack teammate-turned-trainer Kennie Apilli, and Morris's family also has a stable living situation. His mother and younger sister live with him, and his dad, who struggled with drugs for years, is now clean.

Those hurdles Derek Morris faced before are now gone, and he hopes to climb new football heights in the near future

"Fourth quarter, three seconds left in the Super Bowl, and I can block the field goal, and we win?

That's how I want it to end."

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