- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sometime around Josh Norman’s junior year at Coastal Carolina, former Chanticleers coach Dave Bennett challenged cornerbacks coach Mike Castellano. How good could Castellano’s unit be without Norman, the budding cornerback who walked on as a freshman and went on to be an all-Big South player the next three years?

The way Norman took the field for warmups prior to that day’s game, he wasn’t going to see any playing time — certainly not with the way he was dressed.

“He’s got white socks and white shoes and we wear black socks and black shoes,” Bennett recalled. “Josh came over to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m trying to make a statement.’ I said, ‘You’re going to make a statement all right, sitting on the bench.’”

By Bennett’s recollection, Norman changed and went on to have a great game, like the many he had in his career at Coastal Carolina. After all, this was the same player who’d purposefully slip on the turf or fake an injury to bait teams into throwing to his side of the field so he could make a big play.

“He’s just a unique guy,” Bennett said. “It was every day with Josh. He’s a trip.”

Norman is always trying to make a statement. The infamous Week 15 scuffle last year with New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham? The way Bennett saw it, that was Norman standing up to Beckham’s challenge, eager to prove that after being an overlooked fifth-round draft pick, he was one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

Now, after signing a five-year, $75 million contract with the Washington Redskins last month after he was unceremoniously dumped by the Carolina Panthers, Norman is being paid like the best. The looming question is what statement he will make next.

“All my life I’ve been doubted, counted out and cast away,” Norman said last month during his introductory press conference. “But now, I have got a chance to make those doubters and anybody who said anything about me reflect back and make that wrong a right, show them something different, man. You talk about me, I’m just going to put that extra luggage in my bag, and when I drop it on the field between them white lines, I’ll show you differently.”

The tenacity in Norman’s words echo his upbringing in Greenwood, South Carolina, a blue-collar country town with a population less than 25,000 people. It was there where Norman and his four brothers battled on the dirt plot of land that surrounded their home.

Whether it was basketball in the backyard — an old bicycle tire tacked to an oak tree before they got a regulation-size hoop — or football in the front, Norman learned he had to fight for everything, shaping his approach for the tougher days that were ahead, such as those when he lived on his brother Marrio’s couch in a Myrtle Beach apartment. While Marrio played at Coastal Carolina, Josh took classes at Horry Georgetown Tech until he walked on with the Chanticleers in 2008.

“It was total mayhem, man,” Marrio said of the Normans’ backyard games. “We were all so close in age, everyone wants to impress our parents, show the other one up. We always had sibling rivalries.”

That same intense approached fueled his rise with the Panthers, as Norman went from being benched in his rookie season in 2012 to an All-Pro cornerback in 2015 as he helped Carolina reach the Super Bowl.

There are two sides to Norman, who was a theatre major before switching to communications at Coastal Carolina. As Bennett likes to say, the field is Norman’s stage now. It’s between the lines where Norman can unapologetically showcase his brazen personality, like he did that day against Beckham. Off the field, however, that aggressive facade gives way to a more gentle spirit.

Linda Kuykendall, Norman’s advisor and communications instructor at Coastal Carolina — and an ardent football fan — has seen the scope of Norman’s personality up close. One spring day in 2014, Kuykendall walked into a classroom and began her roll call, only to look up and see Norman sitting in the back.

He proceeded to give a 20-minute lecture on the importance of discipline in achieving specific goals and how it helped him transition from a Championship Subdivision program to the NFL. Last fall, he showed up at a Coastal Carolina game and found a seat next to Kuykendall and her husband, just to say hi, then finessed his way through a crowd of children seeking his autograph.

The duality of Norman’s personality, his ability to flip between scripts, is what makes him unique. Yet, when he’s on the field, there is no doubt which one he is reading from.

“I know that he loves the flare and that gives him his personality,” Kuykendall said. “On the field, he’s a darn good player and he loves it.”


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