Rhett Morgan, a junior at East Hamilton High School, decided that since he skipped a season of football last year he needed to make an impact this year if he is to play college football. He has been training but thought he might test his skills in a unique way: He went to the world's only alligator wrestling school in Mosca, Colo.Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
While many of his peers hit the beaches this past spring, Rhett Morgan headed west rather than south or east, and his fun in the sun revolved around wrestling alligators.
"It will make a good story one day to tell the kids and grandkids, but when I got there and saw what they were doing, I almost wimped out," the East Hamilton rising senior said.
Morgan began looking for things to do in Colorado when he found out he'd be able to accompany his father, a pilot for a company in Laredo, Texas, to pick up a new plane.
"Who would've thought about gator wrestling in Colorado?" he said.
Yet there he found himself -- just north of the small farming community of Mosca, Colo. -- where alligators abound at the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. It opened in 1990 as the result of the owners' efforts to rid themselves of dead fish and the remains of filleted fish from their tilapia farm.
Morgan wasn't there for the fish but rather the gators.
"I started with a two-footer and went all the way to an eight-footer," he said. "I did pretty much all of it. When you get to the big ones in a little swamp-like area, you pick one you think you can handle, grab him by the tail and yank him onto land. You get on his back and they try to crawl back in the water, so you lift their head."
One of the instructors told him a 60-pound alligator carried a 250-pound man back into the water.
At 6-foot-3 and close to 300 pounds, Morgan didn't have that problem.
"The worst thing is getting up the nerve to yank the tail and jump on his back. They're very muscular, feel like hard shell. They weren't slimy," he said, adding quickly that he never looked one in the eye. "I never got my face that close to them."
It isn't something he'd do for a living.
"Probably not, 'cause I'm not stupid, but I would like to go back and do it again some time. There's a lot more to it than a six-hour class," he said, adding that there is a different technique for each size alligator. "You go from neck and tail to tail and then to the back and front shoulders."
The adventure provided Morgan with additional confidence for football. If he can wrangle an eight-foot alligator, then he ought to be able to handle an opposing lineman.
"It was a confidence-booster," he acknowledged. "Once you get the hang of it, you feel pretty good."
He also feels good about returning to football after not playing last year.
"I'm hoping I can play defense," he said. "Taking off last year probably wasn't good for me and I'm regretting it now, wishing I had played last year."
He has lost a year in the weight room and valuable time perfecting techniques for either side of the ball.
"He did a good job in the offseason, and he had a really good spring practice," East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood said. "Taking a year off does hurt some kids, but sometimes linemen catch up quicker."
While he will play some defense, Morgan is being penciled in primarily at offensive guard.
"The big things with him are that he's big and he's athletic," his coach said. "A [college] prospect? I think he can be, but I also think he'll need to have a good senior year. He has great potential."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...