MORRIS — Sam Reddinger moves with the smooth and graceful motions of a big cat when he takes the field for the Morris football team.
In stands to reason, then, that he should become a Panther.
That’s exactly what Reddinger did recently when he committed to play his college football for University of Northern Iowa.
The Panthers have historically been a top FCS school, having a total of 40 alumni that have played in the NFL, including 23 that were drafted. The most well-known is quarterback Kurt Warner, an NFL Hall-of-Famer. Offensive lineman Trevor Penning was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints this year.
That kind of history appeals to the 6-2, 195-pound Reddinger, who has been voted by his teammates to be one of the four Morris captains this season.
“Northern Iowa has been a very good, competitive football school,” Reddinger said. “They have sent a lot of guys to the NFL. Their head coach [Mark Farley] was super nice.
“They came to me with my first offer, so they have been interested for a while. I am glad to have that decision out of the way so I can just relax and play football this year.”
While Reddinger figures to be a key cog in the Morris offense this year after rushing for more than 200 yards and five touchdowns last season, it is his play on the defensive side of the ball that attracted the Panthers.
“I will play linebacker there,” Reddinger said. “Defense is my favorite. I would rather be the one giving the hit.”
Reddinger was in on more than 60 tackles last year as a junior for Morris, helping them to a 10-1 record. He recovered five fumbles, two of which he returned for touchdowns after ripping the ball from the ball carrier and sprinting the other way.
Those were the types of plays that stood out for Morris coach Alan Thorson.
“Sam is a very smart football player,” Thorson said. “He really knows the game. Also, his work ethic sets him apart. He has probably put on 10-15 pounds of muscle in the off-season, so he will definitely put in the work. He has put a lot of time in and it shows.
“He was getting some interest from some D-I schools like Northern Illinois, too. Most of them look at him as a linebacker/safety combo, kind of a rover. He has the size to come up and play the run, and he has the quickness to drop into pass coverage. Northern Iowa is a great fit for him.”
Reddinger is ready for his team to get the season officially underway Monday, as he is one of eight starters returning from last season’s defense. They also hope to advance further in the playoffs than they did last year, when they lost a 28-24 decision to Morton at home in the second round.
“We had a good summer,” he said. “The team really looks good. The defense looks good.
“We want to make up for last year. We had the score of the Morton game up on the white board in the weight room all during the offseason to give us motivation. We definitely want to make it farther in the playoffs than we did last year, and I think this team can do it.”
Thorson feels Reddinger has what it takes to make the transition to next level.
“Sam just has a great work ethic,” Thorson said. “You can see that in the transformation in his body from last year to this year.
“With any high school player, there’s going to be a learning curve when you get to college. But, I have confidence in Sam that he will learn quickly. He is a smart player and he picks things up really quickly. I think he has a good shot of getting a lot of playing time there.”