SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

University of Toronto Varsity Blues football punter TJ Morton has been playing football ever since he was six years old. “I’ve been a quarterback my whole life, I didn’t start just being a kicker or punter until college. I don’t even remember a time I wasn’t playing football,” he says. Maybe it’s genetics, as his parents were both very successful athletes in their college days, or maybe it’s the hard work he puts into his sport, but Morton’s last season with the Blues proved to be one of record-breaking heights.

Morton led Ontario University Athletics (OUA) with a 45.1 punting average, and he now holds the OUA single-season record in punting yards, so there’s no doubt that this soon-to-be varsity alum has his eyes set on a successful future. Receiving the honour of being named an OUA first team all-star and U SPORTS first team All-Canadian in 2017 for a second year in a row, Morton credits some of his motivation to his goal of being a U SPORTS first team All-Canadian.

Although Morton has now successfully been named an All-American and an All-Canadian, it doesn’t stop there. Humble and determined, he has his goals set for the future: there is possibly a spot for him in the CFL, and then he will “see if the NFL opportunity is there.”

Morton started his career with the Blues nearly three years into his university career. Starting off his journey at the National College Athlete Association (NCAA)Division III Susquehanna University, his success has been a long time coming. The switch to the University of Toronto was a big change for Morton. “It’s very competitive [in the states and] it’s a different game…rules wise,” he says.

Morton’s decision to come to U of T was solely about academics. He decided to transfer to a Canadian school in part on the advice of a fellow teammate. “One of my roommates from the states actually transferred up here before me… I was looking for a school to transfer to as well. Just like he did, I typed in the best schools in the world and sent my stuff up here,” he says.

Along with different football rules, the social world was also a change. “You got to grow up quick, especially at a school like this, [with] so many people,” he says. “There’s not really that stage to be immature like there was in the states when I went to a school with 1,000 people in the middle of nowhere.”

Having classes at UTM proved to be a challenge as an already busy varsity athlete. Practicing up to four days a week, commuting to and from school, and maintaining good grades is a balancing act, one that Morton proves to have successfully conquered. “Balancing living downtown and going to UTM was tough,” but Morton still found time for friends, music, and movies. He tells me that his ultimate movie pick is Cool Runnings, and when asked about one food he could eat forever if he had to, Morton answers, without hesitating: “funnel cake.”

Finding time for friends, social lives, and even guilty pleasures can be hard for athletes at times, but Morton explained that many of his teammates have actually become some of his closest friends. “The people you play with are the people you are going to talk to for the rest of your life,” he says. Making sure the team work together and that the players bond is a huge part of a successful and cohesive team, one that Morton says U of T is committed to continue building. “We’re starting to go in a positive direction with our changes… It’s super positive in the change room now [and] people are all getting behind the program.”

In coming to U of T, Morton used his experiences to help others. Teammate Connor Ennis says, “When I transferred here TJ was one of the first guys to welcome me in and help me transition to Toronto, I will always appreciate and thank him for that.” Ennis, a Blues quarterback, says that “playing with TJ was a neat experience, he was a big weapon for us, and his ability to punt the football speaks for itself.”

Morton says that maturity is one skill he has gained while playing for the Blues. “The past three years have shaped me as far as maturity, growing as an individual, balancing academics and athletics, but also pushing myself to a higher level, which comes from the coaching staff and the people that surrounded me.”

Morton says that he will miss the city. “I absolutely love Toronto, playing for U of T, the environment, the people around me, the facilities we have are unreal.” As for school, Morton says, “It’s tough, I won’t miss too much but it really taught me to mature, be a better person, and think outside the box.”

Who knows what’s in store for this determined individual? So far he has been successful, and he hopes that he can continue pursuing his dream of professional football. Morton says that the CFL, and possibly the NFL are his biggest dreams. If not, Morton says, “I want to look at possibly going into medical or pharmaceutical sales.”

Leaving to go back home soon, Morton’s career with the Blues is coming to a bittersweet close. He made a name for himself in U of T’s record books and had an incredible career for the Blues.

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