BY JACK KIZER | Ball State Sports Link
When a spectator attends a football game, getting to the stadium early is common. Fans want to get settled in and accustomed to the atmosphere before kickoff.
Before the scheduled start time, special teams players are out warming up, earlier than the rest of their teammates. What fans may not realize is that the players are going through the exact same thing as them. They’re trying to settle in and get used to the atmosphere.
One special teams position in particular — place kicker — has a different game-day process than most. Junior Morgan Hagee holds this role for Ball State.
Taking a step back, however, kicking isn’t something new for Hagee. About an hour and a half from Muncie, Plainfield High School just outside of Indianapolis is where he started to hone his skills.
Hagee earned first-team all-conference honors as a senior and set school records for field goals made in a game (3), field goals made in a season (11) and field goals made in a career (16).
His abilities have been around for a while, but Hagee takes none of the credit.
“The number one thing I try to make in my life is my relationship with God,” Hagee said. “I try to put it above everything and try to implement it into everything that I do. He gave me these abilities, and he deserves to receive my best abilities back.”
Another place Hagee combines sports and faith is through his position on the board of Athletes in Action, a sports ministry group at Ball State.
Whether it’s his pregame routine or perspective on life and football, the term unique is fitting. This is how Morgan Hagee gets Dialed In.
Friday, October 6:
Practice looks slightly different for Ball State on Friday than previous weeks. Walkthroughs were pushed to Thursday and a light “shell” practice, featuring onside kicks and preparation for Akron’s special teams alignments, has just finished.
Hagee grabs two Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, a cookie, chips, banana and Gatorade before loading team bus number three with other specialists, injured players and athletics workers. Due to the small amount of passengers, he sits alone. The buses roll out for Akron at noon and while he joins into occasional conversation, Hagee mostly keeps to himself.
“I usually just listen to music and podcasts. Podcast-wise I listen to Sports Spectrum. It’s a Christian sports magazine. Jason Ramano does it and interviews pro athletes, coaches and chaplains. Really anyone who’s faith and involvement in sports collides in some way. Kind of along the same lines, I listen to a lot of Christian music like Christian rap from Lecrae and worship music by Hillsong and John Mark McMillan. There’s also some classic rock like Guns ‘n Roses in there. I really like a lot of different stuff.”
Keeping the ear buds plugged in and taking a nap later on is Hagee’s way of unwinding.
“I just try to relax. I guess that kind of is my preparation. It gets my mind off of the game. You don’t want to hype yourself up too much the day before.”
After a ride that doesn’t seem too long to Hagee, the buses roll up around 5 p.m.
He goes to the hotel desk to retrieve his room key, drops off his belongings and proceeds to go stretch with his group of upperclassmen.
“The good thing is our strength coach (Ben Armer) was a punter in college. It’s very beneficial because he hammers to the whole team, not just us, the importance of flexibility and recovery.”
Armer leads a series of stretches including squats, pelvic tilts, ankle mobility and foam rolling. Hagee and the rest of his group then head to dinner.
Flank steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, pasta and dessert crowd the plate he sets down next to Jack Milas and Zack Blair. Hagee chooses to sit with the quarterbacks since Milas is his field goal holder and there aren’t any other specialists in his group.
While Hagee eats his dessert, he swoons over the pecan pie and vanilla ice cream available to him at the Muncie hotel the team stays in before home games.
He moves on and walks back up to his room to relax for a few minutes before team chapel starts at 7:30 p.m.. After Linebackers Coach Johnny Curtis wraps up the spiritual meeting, Hagee moves on to a special teams meeting.
Special Teams Coordinator Patrick Doughtery reviews the material his players practiced earlier that day and sends them on their way. All of the team members gather into a room without coaches to express their thoughts and get each other dialed in.
Following his final meeting of the night, Hagee grabs a turkey-ham-and-cheese sandwich as he goes back to his room.
“We grew up playing sports and kicking together and we just bonded that way. It’s been very good for my parents too. Last semester, he was an early graduate and walked on at Utah State. Then he decided to transfer here, and that’s just been really good for my family.”
Once Jonathan exits the room, he flips through the channels to try and find any Friday night college football or local high school games before picking up the phone to call his mom and dad.
After Hagee’s family conversation, the coaches stop by at 10:30 p.m. to make sure everyone is where they should be. He decides to get some rest about 30 minutes later and drifts off to sleep in ease laying in a hotel bed he finds very comfortable.
Saturday, October 7:
Game day.Hagee wakes up at 8:45 a.m. for a full-team meeting at 9:30.
Head Coach Mike Neu gives a lengthy and encouraging speech to his players and staff emphasizing positivity and a family atmosphere with their sixth game of the season quickly approaching.
The weekly pump-up video is then played for everyone to get the juices flowing.
At 11 a.m., Hagee and the team go to eat a pregame meal not technically classified as breakfast. A combination of pancakes, eggs and spaghetti with meat sauce satisfies Hagee as he sits and converses with his fellow specialists.
Some time still remains before the buses depart for InfoCision Stadium at 1:15 p.m. Hagee chooses to listen to more Matthew West and Hillsong worship music along with tuning in to College Gameday on ESPN.
The time has come to leave the hotel. Ball State pulls up to Akron’s facilities at 1:30 p.m. With game time in just two hours, Hagee quickly finds his locker and puts on his game pants, cleats and a shirt. He’s ready to run out on to the field and do his own personal warm-up.
“I’ll do my own stretch and dynamic warm-up. Then I’ll kick a few balls to just kind of get a feel for the wind and the atmosphere to help me know where I feel comfortable at distance-wise.”
Hagee doesn’t venture further back than 47 yards due to the strong wind. It’s not something that affects him mentally too much though because of his upbringing in the erratic Midwest. Once he feels comfortable, he jogs back to the locker room.
Hagee enjoys more Christian tunes and uses the foam roller to stay loose. He then puts on his pads and helmet before taking the field with all of the special teams players for their official warm-ups. Hagee chooses not to kick too many times, but does slowly work his way back from extra-point length to his comfortable maximum distance for the day.
Later on, he kicks to Justin Hall and the rest of the special teams returners to warm them both up. Dynamic warm-ups with the rest of the team ensue before Hagee boots one final practice point-after attempt through the uprights. He returns to the locker room with his teammates.
“I always go off by myself in the back next to an empty locker or in the showers and say a prayer. That’s before Coach Neu comes and talks to us.”
Coach Neu keeps his speech shorter this time around and continues the theme of positivity and belief. The team gets together one last time, breaks its huddle and prepares to run out on to the field.
As they exit the locker room, Hagee finds a random teammate and pounds on his shoulder pads to get fired up. Game time.
Opportunity is scarce for Hagee as Ball State commits three turnovers and struggles to move the ball down the field throughout the game.
His 31-yard field goal in the first quarter is the only scoring play for the Cardinals. To stay loose throughout the game, he occasionally rides the stationary bike and kicks into a net when the offense nears midfield in case a field goal chance arises. Loose is how Hagee likes his legs and also how he likes the atmosphere on the sidelines.
“I might talk with some of the other guys about who-knows-what. Usually on the jumbo-tron they’ll have stuff wherever we’re playing, and I’ll watch some of that too.”
After the game concludes, Hagee finds Akron’s specialists, congratulates them and trots back to Ball State’s locker room. Coach Neu’s positivity doesn’t disappear despite the loss, as he encourages the team to move on during the bye week.
Hagee then gets undressed, showers, changes into a fresh set of clothes and grabs Papa John’s as a snack for the lengthy bus ride home. He swiftly gathers his belongings and puts them on the bus to reserve his spot.
With his family waiting outside, he comes back out and talks to them until the bus is ready to depart. Just under five hours, the ride back to Muncie has the buses roll in just before midnight.
After a quick drive home, Hagee gladly falls asleep at 12:30 a.m.
Kicking is a singular task. It’s different than the role of others, yet vital to the team. Whether it’s his responsibility as a football player, pregame process or approach to each day, Morgan Hagee is unique.