The first three years of Richie Norman’s high school football career were nothing short of frustrating. The final one has been nothing short of memorable.
The Brunswick running back thought he was going to start on the freshman team in 2010, but a broken ankle on the first day of full-contact practice ended his season. The injury nagged him for the better part of a year — he played limited minutes on the junior varsity as a sophomore — and ultimately led to a decision he has since come to regret.
Norman didn’t come out for the team as a junior, much to the disappointment of his teammates.
“Personally, it didn’t feel like the year for me,” he said Wednesday. “I didn’t feel right. I lost the love for it, but it made me realize how much I missed playing with my buddies and missed playing the sport.”
With a little nudging from the father of teammate Jake Ambrose, Norman’s desire returned with a fury prior to this season.
The Blue Devils (6-4), who play at Mentor (9-1) in a first-round Division I, Region 1 playoff game Saturday, couldn’t be happier their generously listed 5-foot-7, 170-pounder is back in the fold.
“The first thing that comes to mind with Richie is he’s a great kid,” fourth-year coach Luke Beal said. “A lot of times guys that are really athletic have a little bit of a swagger, but Richie is the most humble, quietest, hardest-working guy that we’ve got.
“Richie is a friend to everybody and always has a smile on his face. Combine that with he’s very athletic and an explosive offensive weapon and it’s been a great year.”
Ah, the explosiveness. Beal was unsure if it would return after such a “devastating” ankle injury. Norman learned a valuable lesson while ensuring it did.
One of a handful of wise-beyond-his-years players on the Brunswick roster, Norman hit the weight room and studied film with the intensity of professional.
The athletic results have been striking, as Norman significantly lowered his times in the 100 (11.1) and 200 meters (23.0) and has increased his deadlift to 650 pounds.
Those who say hard work doesn’t pay off haven’t met Norman, who is proud to say he has helped replace a pair of All-Gazette selections on an offense that is averaging 31.7 points per game despite losing most of last year’s skill players to graduation.
“Really, I just try to look up to Nick Roberts and Keith Yohman,” said Norman, who has a 3.0 grade-point average and is unsure if he wants to play collegiately. “They really inspired me on the field and off, and I wanted to play like them.
“(They showed me) you really have to work for it. A lot of people say, ‘I want to do this,’ but you have to be focused and dedicated for what you want.”
Along the way, Norman helped Brunswick accomplish something it has wanted since 2009 — a D-I playoff berth.
The surprisingly rugged runner leads the team in rushing attempts (160) and yards (934) and is tied with Zach Parker with 48 points, but those numbers would be higher if not for sharing time with classmate Chase Rieg early in the year and missing the Elyria game with a hip injury.
Norman has been at his brightest in recent weeks, rushing an average of 20 times for 121 yards and a score over the last four games. He posted 189 yards last week in a 44-41 loss to Solon, including a 60-yard touchdown in the final minute when it appeared the Blue Devils were dead in the water.
“The thing that is different with Richie is any time he touches the ball, there’s a chance he’s going to score,” Beal said. “Chase runs hard and is physical, but Richie has that extra burst. It’s been a bright spot for us in the last three or four weeks of the season. Richie has had big runs in key situations.”
Norman could do that again when the Blue Devils take on Mentor, which handed them a surprisingly lopsided 45-3 loss in Week 7.
Brunswick is a 23-point underdog according to fantastic50.net, but Norman is extremely confident the Blue Devils will give the high-flying Cardinals a run for their money.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “What we’ve got to do is really believe we can win. We can carry that (loss) and add it to our motivation. Other teams move the ball against them, so why can’t we? I think we can.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.