SOLON — Yes, the tenderloin at Joensy’s Restaurant is enormous. It’s a plate-filling, golden fried sandwich of greasy goodness.
It even looks big when James Morris, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker picks it up and takes a bite.
“I’m going with the tenderloin, it’s what they’re known for,” Morris said. “This place is basically a grease joint. You don’t come to Joensy’s for the paninis.”
He orders it with pickles, onions and cole slaw. None of it stood a chance.
Is it OK for the future University of Iowa linebacker to take on a tenderloin calorie bomb? Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle gives players dietary guidelines. One would think this tanker of a tenderloin would be a red light.
“I ate healthier early today and last night, so I’m good,” Morris said. “Plus, this is our week off, so I’m indulging a little bit.”
You notice the big chunk of silver on Morris’ right hand. Looks like a Solon High School graduation ring. Look closely and it says “Class 2A state football champions.”
Morris helped bring three of these to Solon. The 2010 Gazette Male Athlete of the Year also qualified for the state wrestling three times, finishing fourth each of the last two years. In May, he teamed with Derrick Loveless, Sammy Vance and Pat Parysz to win the 400-meter relay and clinch Solon’s first state track championship.
Morris was 16 years old when Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz offered a football scholarship to the University of Iowa.
He sat in Joensy’s and annihilated a tenderloin. Look closely, you see a kid sitting on the edge of a fantastic opportunity that he fully intends to devour like a greasy tenderloin.
Yes, there’s the football. Morris likely won’t redshirt. He went into Iowa’s fall camp as the No. 3 middle linebacker.
That’s just one layer.
His class schedule includes calculus, intro to American politics and Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He’s interested in political science and, potentially, law school.
“I’m not GOP, that’s for sure,” Morris said. “I’m probably half-socialist and half-capitalist.”
The last movie he watched was Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story.” His current book is Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.” He’s also interested in a film minor and has made movies on Windows Movie Maker.
“There are a lot of good things about our country,” said Morris, whose stepdad, Greg, is the equipment manager for Iowa football. “People are moving here in droves. They’re not moving out of here. Something is right, but at the same time, it’s not perfect.”
This is an active, unfraid mind. It’s going to go where it’s going to to.
“I see him as a professional and I definitely see him in the public eye,” said Don Ellis, who’s served as the P.A. announcer for Solon football and basketball for some 17 years. “The man speaks eloquently, not afraid of people, not afraid of crowds. He can wing it with the best of them.”
When Ellis, a senior vice president at Solon State Bank, introduced Morris’ Gatorade Iowa football player of the year at Solon basketball, he simply handed him the mic.
“I didn’t even warn him,” Ellis said. “I knew he would go with the flow. That’s the way he is.
“He just has it. He has the things you need to be successful. You admire him because he speaks to adults just as he would his fellow classmates. Comfort zone. Most kids won’t do that. They’ll only speak when spoken to. James will come up to you, ‘Don, what are you doing today? Did you get through Beef Days?’ ”
The Solon Spartans have enjoyed an amazing run in athletics.
The football team has won 41 consecutive games and three state titles. The 2009 Spartans won state boys basketball. The boys and girls track teams won titles this spring. The baseball team won the school’s first state title last month.
Strict parents, lots of law enforcement living in town and, of course, great coaches, Morris said.
The thing about Solon is people here don’t party that much,” Morris said. “I can honestly say I didn’t go to one high
Morris’ reason is simple.
“There are four sheriff deputies who live on my street,” he said. “If something’s going on on my street, it’s not going to last long. It’s a culture is conducive to what to what people would say is good character.”
Ellis, who’s been in Solon since 1975, believes the commuter nature of Solon, between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, strengthens the community.
“If these kids are out racing cars or gathering at someone’s farm drinking beer, the community probably knows about it,” he said. “It’s a nurturing community where everyone watches each other’s backs.”
Morris’ room in Solon has a ”Herky on Parade” poster with the 75 Herkys that dotted Iowa City a few years back. But he’s also had his goals cut out and placed on his nightstand.
State championships, check. Major-college football scholarship, check. A 3.95 GPA, check.
He moves into Hillcrest Residence Hall this week. New nightstand. New set of goals.
“I love Solon. I think it’s one of the best towns in the country,” Morris said. “But at the same time, I’m on to the next goal.
“My parents (Lynn and Greg) don’t want to hear this, but I can’t wait to get out of the house, just to be on my own, not have to report to anybody or check in. Just knowing that the person holding you accountable is you.”
This active mind is going to go where it’s going to go.