MORRIS: Dropping the weight with a little help from his friends

rmorris@thestate.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Sometime last spring Dan Morgan looked around at his hard-working Blythewood High football team and recognized a need for change.

Morgan first needed to consult with his wife, Dana.

“You know what,” Morgan recalled telling her, “I’ve got to be around longer for my kids, not just my football players but my two kids here at home. I’ve got to be around longer for you, too.”

The 43-year-old Morgan, who stands 6-foot, weighed 323 pounds.

Life was uncomfortable for the first-year head coach. Sitting in a theater seat was virtually impossible. Instead of selecting a restaurant for its food, the Morgans picked one out based on the size of the booths and whether he could sit comfortably to eat.

“I’m going to start doing something about it today,” Morgan told his wife. “Do you want to join me?”

Dana looked her husband directly in the eyes, started to cry and responded emphatically.

“Yes.”

That conversation occurred just after the July Fourth holiday. Two months later Morgan has dropped 40 pounds due primarily to extensive exercise and a radical change in eating habits. He also could not have done it without the support of a friend’s 10centsapound.com campaign, as well as constant encouragement from his players, the players’ parents, his fellow coaches and the Blythewood administration.

“Now that he’s thrown it out there for everyone to see, it’s about accountability,” said Keith Price, Blythewood’s principal. “It’s tough to shrug it off now. You’ve got to really hold your feet to the fire. It’s been real easy to pay him the compliments he deserves, but also to keep pushing him and keep asking him about it.”

Once he left high school, weight became an issue for Morgan, adding five or so pounds to his frame every year. He played at Northwestern High as an undersized (190 pounds) defensive end and guard.

In college, first at Alabama, then at USC, he developed a love for calculus, which he continues to teach. He also realized a passion for coaching while serving an internship as the JV girls basketball coach at Airport High.

Over the next eight years he coached baseball and football at Brookland-Cayce, Waccamaw and Northwestern high schools. Then he suffered from coaching burnout and became a financial adviser for Edward Jones.

A couple of years into his new career and it was time for another consultation with his wife. This one came after another Friday night of listening to any high school football game he could pick up on the radio in the Columbia area.

“I really miss it,” Dan recalled telling Dana.

“I’ve just been waiting for you to say it,” she replied.

Morgan soon was the defensive coordinator at West Oak High School, and four years later, in 2008, accepted the same position at Blythewood. By then, he weighed 275 pounds.

“The stress of football, the weird working hours,” Morgan said. “You create excuses for eating poorly, instead of being disciplined and eating the right foods.”

Late-night film sessions were augmented with late-night pizzas. A Thursday that included a ninth-grade game followed by a JV game, also would lead to a quick trip to a fast food restaurant for a double-cheeseburger and large order of french fries.

He also had eliminated much of his exercise, no longer walking 18 holes of golf or even taking strolls with his now 7-year-old daughter, Reese, or 3-year-old son, Michael. Reconstructive surgery on both ankles did not help the cause.

So, when he decided to do something about his weight, Morgan posted his mission on Facebook. Patrick Mohan, a former high school student of Morgan’s and now a Columbia bankruptcy attorney, saw the Facebook post and called his former teacher.

Mohan suggested that Morgan sign up for 10centsapound.com, a weight-loss idea whereby the subject garners support and pledges from friends. The supporters can donate whatever amount of money they want for each pound lost, whether it is 10 cents or 10 dollars.

“The original idea was kind of a very broad picture, trying to raise money for a charity, or a house payment or student loans,” Mohan said of the program. “But the way it developed, what if people could do this as a fundraiser for charity?”

All proceeds from Morgan’s weight loss will go to the Blythewood football fund. He has dropped 40 pounds so far and garnered $471 in pledges. The plan calls for a 150-day commitment from Morgan, so there is no ultimate weight-loss goal.

“Most diets, people quit on themselves,” Morgan said. “The 10centsapound program has forced me not to quit on anybody else because if I gave up on that one, I would be quitting on so many other people.”

So, Morgan no longer drinks sweet tea or sodas and has rid his diet of fried foods, substituting grilled chicken and fish as well as vegetables and fruits. When he walks the Blythewood High hallways he totes a big jug of water.