UTICA - Their summer wasn't much of a vacation. Call it a work in progress.
Together, Thomas R. Proctor High School teammates Jamarious Morgan and Logan Wilcox spent nearly every weekend showcasing their considerable talents - Morgan as a running back with blazing speed, southpaw Wilcox as a quarterback with a rifle arm - at college football camps around the northeast.
Morgan, a senior, got at least one Division I offer and verbally committed to Central Connecticut State. Wilcox, a junior, piqued the interest of several other Division I programs, including Boston College and Temple.
At the same time, the summertime sidekicks who last season came ever so close to leading Proctor to its first Carrier Dome final were busy preparing themselves for the task now at hand.
No, that off-season commitment to excellence wasn't all about them. It was about helping this year's Raiders make Proctor football history. And they aren't the only ones trying to make that finally happen.
"We had a good season last year, but I think we have a better chance now," Morgan said. "I wanted to get better, I wanted our team to get better as a whole, and a lot of us worked out in the weight room. ... Right now, we're ahead of where we were last year."
That's saying a lot.
Last year's Raiders won their first four games before a 35-34 loss at Baldwinsville. They shared the Class AA-2 title - Proctor's first league championship of any kind since 2003 - and they finished 7-2 overall, including a 38-14 loss to state-ranked Christian Brothers Academy in the Section III Class AA semifinals.
Morgan and Wilcox were largely responsible for that success, and nearly every day since that playoff loss, they have tried to make themselves better for the good of the team.
Wilcox and his father, Proctor assistant Dave Wilcox, took Morgan with them to summer camps at Temple, Maine, Central Connecticut, Wagner, Boston College, Maine and Massachusetts. Morgan also went to Pittsburgh and Wilcox to Bucknell.
"I'm sure Jamarious would do the same for me," Logan Wilcox said. "Ever since I met him, he's been my best friend. We're a family - these are all my brothers - and family takes care of each other."
Football is the tie that binds them, and together again, Morgan and Wilcox are determined to make this season a memorable one. Even more so than last season, when Morgan earned third-team all-state honors and Wilcox was an all-state honorable mention.
Morgan averaged nearly 10 yards per carry as a junior, rushing for 1,362 yards and scoring 22 touchdowns, one of them a school record-setting 98-yard run. Now listed at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Morgan isn't much bigger this year. But he is undoubtedly stronger and incredibly, even faster.
"It's scary, because as good as Jamarious was last year, he's better now," said Proctor offensive coordinator Byron Abraham, whose son, senior slot-back Nick Abraham, is another one of Morgan's closest friends. "Jamarious is such a good person, on and off the field. He doesn't run the streets. His grades are good. He's just a good kid to invest in. He's special.
"He's like a dart on the field, and he's so strong, so explosive. He's been in the weight room for two solid years, training religiously. He's not just fast, he's fast-fast. He's got unbelievable vision, and he's deceptively strong. He's a weight-room kid and you can't arm-tackle him; his legs are too powerful."
That combination has Proctor head coach Steve Strife likening Morgan to former Raider running backs Richard Pete (Buffalo State), Lawrence Elliott (Bloomsburg University) and J'Von Evans (Utica College) who went on to star at the next level.
"Jamarious is a mix of all three," Strife said. "He's fast. He's got great balance. He can run over you, around you, or by you. And Jamarious is a man now, a physical specimen. He's rock solid. His bench press is up 50 pounds, his squat is up 150 pounds, and he's a half second faster than he was last year. His numbers are off the chart. I just don't know how you're going to be able to tackle him.
"He has God-given talent, but he's also worked so hard to make himself even better. It's scary to think he can be better than he was last year, but he will be."
Morgan ran the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds this summer, and Central Connecticut offered him a scholarship the very next day - partly because his talents fit their hurry-up, spread offense.
Strife guarantees he will get more offers before he's done here, thanks in part to a big, experienced offensive line led by the return of starters Alvin Mujakovic, Dom Diaz, Kareem Williams and Orlando Cross and the addition of former Notre Dame High lineman Bruno Arcuri. And neither the coach, nor the player, want to hear another college recruiter give the "he's too short" speech.
"I just laugh, because there's no way Jamarious isn't good enough to play Division I football," Strife said.
"Yeah, I've heard it a few times, that I'm too short," Morgan said. "But I really don't think (height) matters and it doesn't really bother me."
Assistant coach Abraham, a former Notre Dame High star and a Division I running back at the University of Notre Dame and Syracuse, isn't bothered by it. All you have to do is watch Morgan's highlight reel on www.hudl.com and see which clip Morgan chose to lead with - the one from last year's playoff game against CBA that shows Morgan as the lead blocker on a sweep to the left.
The play gained only five yards, but it was Morgan's block that raised eyebrows.
"Jamarious just knocks the cornerback off the field; it's spectacular," Abraham said. "I can't tell you how many coaches say they love that play. It makes you watch the rest of the tape and it shows you just what kind of kid Jamarious is, that he's going to do whatever it takes to help his football team."
Morgan is the perfect fit for Proctor's "jet" offense, too.
Strife calls it a "sweep 'til you weep" approach designed to utilize the speed and athleticism of playmakers like Morgan, Nick Abraham, Jalen Woodson and Devin Lilley. And if defenses focus too much on stopping the run, the Raiders can beat you with their play-action passing game.
"It's going to be hard to stop us," Morgan said. "If they stop me and the running game, then Logan's going to throw the ball all day."
So far, it hasn't come to that.
Wilcox still enjoyed a sensational sophomore season, completing over 58 percent of his passes and throwing for 1,220 yards and 11 touchdowns. And this year's list of prime targets includes junior newcomer John Boyd and Notre Dame transfers Mike Boyer and Todd Manolescu. But the Raiders will likely remain a run-first team, and that's fine with Wilcox.
"You know what Logan likes to do? He likes to win," Byron Abraham said. "He doesn't mind handing the ball off because he's all about this team and winning."
With Wilcox running the show, Strife is often tempted to "chuck the ball all over the place," but right now that's the Raider way.
"Logan actually has sacrificed a lot for this team and he's had no problem with that," Strife said.
"I'd love to throw the ball more, but when something works you've got to stick with it," Wilcox said. "We can run pretty much anything out of our offense and it's going to be a nightmare to defend. I just want to get the ball out of my hands, get it to our athletes, and let them win the game."
Playing in the Carrier Dome for the first time and winning a Section III championship is the ultimate goal, and Strife admits the Raiders will have to improve defensively to make that happen.
But with Morgan and Wilcox back, better than ever, outscoring this Proctor team isn't going to be easy.
"We're excited," Strife said. "These guys are excited. The school is excited. The community is excited. It hasn't been that way in a while. ... The expectations are what they are, but expectations don't cut the mustard. You still have to go out and play. But teams are going to be hard-pressed to score with us. They're going to have to put a lot of points on the board."