Blue and Gold Illustrated

October 28, 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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60 OCT. 28, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH ECHOES JIM LEFEBVRE BY JIM LEFEBVRE M aps show a distance of 125 miles between Muskegon, Mich., and the University of Notre Dame campus. Jim Morse, star Fighting Irish half- back in the mid-1950s, crafted a life that made them seem next door to each other. His was a rags-to-riches story of a disadvantaged youth, a star athlete, highly successful businessman and well-known philanthropist. Morse died at age 87 on Sept. 28, just days shy of his 88th birthday. Along the way, he overcame obsta- cles and made his priorities — family, football, business and philanthropy — a credit to his hard work, determination and intelligence. Morse grew up in some of the rougher areas of Muskegon without a male role model in his home. His mother suf- fered from mental illness, so he was raised primarily by his grandmother. As a young boy during World War II, he sold newspapers on the street corners of downtown Muskegon, and later was a hot dog vendor on the beaches of Lake Michigan. He began to display a pen- chant for determination and hard work. And he developed a friendship with a pretty notable athlete — Earl Mor- rall. The former Muskegon High School standout had gone on to become an All- American at Michigan State, and even- tually would win Super Bowls with the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins. Morse attended St. Mary's High School, one of the four small parish high schools that would merge to become Muskegon Central Catholic in 1953. His football feats were legendary. He scored a total of 343 points at St. Mary's in just 26 games — an average of more than 13 points a game. And he totaled 50 touchdowns, averaging an astounding 27 yards for each TD scored. In a 1951 game, he returned an interception 104 yards for a touchdown. He was also a basketball standout, leading St. Mary's to a state runner-up finish in 1953. Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame recruited Morse for football, and he chose the one with the "unusual- sounding name" whose games he had listened to on the radio for years. At Notre Dame, he became a close friend of his teammate Paul Hornung, starting alongside the "Golden Boy" in the Irish backfield. He had some of his most dazzling performances against archrival Southern Cal. As a sophomore in 1954, Morse rushed for 179 yards, caught 2 passes and scored a pair of touchdowns to lead the Irish to a 23-17 victory. The next year against the Trojans, he caught 5 passes for 208 yards, an average of 41.6 yards per reception. For the season, his 17 receptions and 424 yards gained led the team. In Morse's senior season, his 442 receiving yards set a school record. More importantly, Morse gained the respect of his teammates for his dedi- cation, work ethic and leadership. He was elected captain of the 1956 Irish, an accomplishment he rated near the top among his many lifetime achievements. And while his senior season didn't bring the team success everyone had hoped for, Morse was able to help Hor- nung to a prolific performance which resulted in the only Heisman Trophy won by a player from a team with a los- ing record. But that was just the beginning. Morse would take on a variety of roles in the coming years, none more important than husband and father. He married his high school sweetheart, and he and Leah Rae raised seven children as his career expanded to a variety of pursuits. He began with a sports radio segment on a Muskegon station, and before long Morse was elected captain of the 1956 Irish, and in 2004 he received the Edward W. "Moose" Krause Distinguished Service Award from the Notre Dame Monogram Club in recognition of his years of service to the university. FILE PHOTO Jim Morse Crafted A Life As A True Notre Dame Man

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