WASHINGTON - The Catholic University of America senior Lucas Morley has all the physical attributes you could ever want in a wide receiver. Size, speed, agility, hands -- it's all there.
But his biggest strength, the trait that has pushed Morley into the upper echelon of pass catchers across the Division III football landscape, is less tangible than his height or 40-yard dash time. Catholic interim head coach Bill Bachman calls it the "compete gene."
"When God sprinkled pixie dust on his head, the pixie dust was his ability to compete, to win at the point of attack," Bachman said. "When four hands go up and two of them are Lucas's, he comes down with the ball."
Morley came down with a lot of balls last season. Correction -- Morley came down with a record-setting number of balls last season. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Olney, Md., native finished with 100 receptions for 967 yards and 14 touchdowns, all three of which led the Cardinals by a wide margin. Morley's average of 10 receptions per game led the nation.
While Morley shined as an individual, the team struggled. Catholic finished 3-7 for the second straight season in 2015, leading to Morley's numbers feeling a bit hollow.
"When you look back on it, almost a year after, it's pretty cool to look at the numbers," Morley said. "But when it's going on and the team isn't succeeding as a unit, it's frustrating. There's really no other word to describe it."
Through three games in 2016, Morley's prolific pace has continued -- he has 20 receptions for 207 yards and a Division III-leading seven touchdowns -- but the Cardinals have already matched last season's win total. In a 37-35 win against Coast Guard this past Saturday, Morley finished with six catches for 113 yards and four touchdowns, en route to ODAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
It's been a stellar two years for Morley, a converted tight end who didn't begin playing organized football until his senior year at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, a decorated program that has produced some notable players, including Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Morley saw limited playing time at tight end, but quickly turned heads upon arriving at Catholic.
"We knew he was special," Bachman said. "We'd play JV games and he'd have 12 catches."
Morley appeared in three varsity games as a freshman, playing exclusively on special teams. The Cardinals had an established tight end in Alex Evans, but there was a growing sense that the team needed to find a spot on offense for Morley. That spot, as it turned out, was on the outside as a wide receiver, where Morley's height could create mismatches against smaller cornerbacks. Morley began the transition to full-time receiver in the spring semester of his freshman year.
Bachman, who was promoted to interim head coach this past June, served as the Cardinals' tight ends coach in 2013 and 2014, and has worked closely with Morley over his collegiate career. Bachman has seen Morley make countless highlight-reel plays over the last four years, but one in particular stands above the rest.
Morley hauled in the game-winning 49-yard touchdown pass from former standout quarterback T.J. Tutone to cap Catholic's 34-33, come-from-behind win against McDaniel in last season's opener. That, in and of itself, isn't shocking, but it's how Morley scored that's forever etched in Bachman's mind.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, Morley caught a pass from Tutone near the far sideline with a McDaniel defensive back all over him. Morley shook off the defender, stayed inbounds, juked past another defender and raced down the sideline for the go-ahead score.
"It's a play in D-III that very few teams across the country, including the top 20 programs, have a player that could make," Bachman said. "It's just an incredible play."
Morley, a finance major, is the younger brother of Will Morley, a standout on Catholic's men's basketball national championship team in 2001. Lucas's half-sister rowed crew at the University of Mary Washington, his uncle played point guard at Maryland alongside Len Bias, and his father was a three-sport athlete in high school, so athletics certainly run in the Morley family.
Catholic offensive coordinator Joe Dougherty said Morley "might be the best receiver in the country," but in his mind, a more balanced offensive attack will lead to more success for the Cardinals.
"I talked to him and I said, 'Listen, my goal is not to have you be the leading receiver in the country,'" Dougherty said.
Morley still primarily lines up on the outside, but the Cardinals have moved him around more in formations this season in an effort to keep defenses from constantly double-teaming him. The backfield, the slot, stack sets in the slot -- Dougherty affectionately calls it his version of "Where's Waldo?"
Morley said is he happy to sacrifice individual achievements if it means greater team success. That kind of selflessness helped Morley become an overwhelming choice as one of the Cardinals' captains this season.
"One hundred catches and the yards and the touchdowns, there's no goal there, per se," Morley said. "I want to come out and play to the best of my ability, prepare myself to allow myself to do that."
Don't expect Morley to suddenly become a non-factor -- he's still the main weapon for junior quarterback Jorge Pola, who assumed the starting role after the departure of Tutone. As each week passes, Pola continues to rely on Morley for key conversions and big plays, as Tutone did.
"My son, who is in high school, coined the phrase while watching in the stands, 'Third-and-Lucas,'" Bachman said. "When we were 'third-and-Lucas,' T.J. knew what to do with the football. ... If you have a 50-50 shot, it's really not 50-50 if Lucas is involved."