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Matt Morrissey, the proud son, won't chase the number.
Big Ten wide receivers? Running backs? Quarterbacks? Tight ends?
Sure, the Stevenson incoming senior will hotly pursue any ball carrier on a football field. But when the "athlete" shows up at Michigan State University next year, he won't request his dad's old jersey number.
Before Jim Morrissey wore Dick Butkus' No. 51 while playing for the Bears, he pulled jersey No. 40 over his shoulder pads for Michigan State. Jim Morrissey was a four-year letter winner at MSU from 1981-84, twice earning All-Big Ten honors as a linebacker.
"He joked a couple of times about me trying to get No. 40, but one of their best players is their middle linebacker who's wearing No. 40," said Matt, who's 6 feet 3, 185 pounds and the youngest of four athletic kids of Jim and Amy, who also went to Michigan State.
The youngest Morrissey is aware that senior linebacker Max Bullough sports No. 40 for Michigan State. On Monday, the same day Morrissey verbally committed to the Spartans, Bullough was named to watch lists for both the Butkus and Lombardi awards. While Bullough will have finished his college football career by the time Morrissey arrives, there's another Bullough, Max's little brother and fellow linebacker Riley, on the Spartans' roster.
"I'm not going to try to take his number," Morrissey, young but wise and respectful, said with a laugh.
Morrissey, who earned all-state honors last season as a safety/wide receiver for Stevenson, said Michigan State recruited him as an "athlete." If he ends up playing safety, however, he'll likely wear a single-digit number (he wears No. 8 for Stevenson) or a jersey number in the 20s or 30s.
Regardless, the numbers game can wait.
Morrissey received scholarship offers from several Division I schools, including Boston College (his brother Mike played there), Illinois, Syracuse, Toledo, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. Head coach Mark Dantonio has led Michigan State to a school-record six consecutive bowl appearances. For the second straight season in 2012, the Spartans had the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten.
"I just sat down with my family and went over all the different choices, and Michigan State always seemed like the best fit for me, Morrissey said. "I'm really excited to be a Spartan."
His dad is equally thrilled, rest assured, but he didn't try to sway his son.
"He helped me out throughout the whole recruiting process, but the great thing is that he didn't put any pressure on me and just kind of let me make my own decision," Morrissey said. "He really didn't have any bias toward Michigan State. He let me go through the whole process and try to find the best fit for me."
Morrissey will be the third member of his family to compete for MSU. His sister Anna, a reserve guard on the women's basketball team, was named Academic All-Big Ten last season. She will be a senior at Michigan State when her little brother arrives on the East Lansing campus in 2014. Matt has visited his sister at college, so he won't be a total stranger to MSU his freshman year.
"She was really excited once I decided," Morrissey said. "She had only good things to say about Michigan State because she's having a great time there."
A two-way varsity starter since his sophomore year, Morrissey posted 84 tackles last season, while also catching 33 passes, including 5 for touchdowns. Stevenson coach Bill McNamara has called Morrissey "that rare blend of size, speed and athletic ability."
Morrissey looks forward to his senior season and then heading to Michigan State, where he's sure to be referred to, at least initially, as "Jim Morrissey's son."
He's cool with that.
"I know I'm going to get the comparison," Morrissey said. "Going to his alma mater, I'm sure I'll get some recognition for it, but it's just more reason to get in the weight room, work hard, make my family proud and hopefully become a good player for Michigan State."
He plans on doing that, no matter which jersey number he wears.
• Follow Joe Aguilar on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64