Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Norwoods took leap of faith to Baylor
By Max Olson
Thirteen years ago, Levi Norwood was the 8-year-old kid running around at Texas Tech football practice, the one hanging out with the other coaches’ kids.
His father, Brian Norwood, was the first-year defensive backs coach on Mike Leach’s first staff in Lubbock. Norwood had moved his family down to Texas after five years of coaching at Navy.
And Art Briles, well, he was the cool guy.
"All the kids loved Coach Briles because he had all the current music and he listened to a lot of R&B," Brian Norwood said. "He just got in his big truck and would blast R&B. The old-school stuff, Motown, a little bit of everything."
Levi Norwood has six receiving touchdowns in his last five games for the Bears.
Levi was too young to remember much about Briles back then. All he knows is he's glad he plays for him today, as the breakout slot receiver in Baylor's No. 1 ranked offense.
He wouldn't be here today, a key cog in the Bears' dream 11-1 season, Big 12 championship and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl berth, if not for the bond his father formed with Briles back in 2000.
It took a serious leap of faith, too, to get the Norwoods to Waco, Texas.
Brian and his family had found plenty of happiness in Happy Valley. They spent seven years at Penn State after that one season at Texas Tech. They loved the community. He loved working for Joe Paterno. And his older son, Jordan Norwood, was one of the Nittany Lions' leading receivers. All in all, the Norwoods were thriving.
So why in the world would they give it up to go to Baylor? Why, in 2008, would Brian give up a good thing to join a program that hadn't surpassed five wins since 1995?
"When you talk about faith, it was literally what I call a God move," Brian said. "At Baylor, Coach Briles had given me this opportunity to be defensive coordinator and we really sat down and talked about teaming up and building something. That was really exciting."
Added Levi: "It was a leap of faith for anyone coming here. But if you know my dad, he's going to put all his faith into what he's doing. I don't think it was a very hard decision for him."
Mostly, Brian Norwood believed in Briles. They forged a strong bond in Lubbock, both on the practice field and the recruiting trail. And especially in the weight room, where they often lifted together.
"It was sort of competitive, because Briles is competitive at everything," Brian said. "I mean, I never did power cleans since I probably finished college. Art is doing all these other lifts and I’m thinking, 'What in the world?'"
When Briles was head coach at Houston, he tried to hire Norwood. The timing didn’t work out. He tried again when he arrived in Waco, landing his old friend to serve as defensive coordinator for three years before bringing in Phil Bennett.
Briles sold Norwood on his vision. Briles earnestly and honestly believed he could bring a winning mentality to the Bears. He was passionate about the opportunity to change a woebegone program into a winner. Norwood bought in.
"It ended up being a great move for me and my family," Brian said. "We did have challenges with it, but definitely a good move."
SportsNation: Who wins the Fiesta Bowl?
Don't be fooled by the lack of prestige -- the Fiesta Bowl features two intriguing teams. Who wins? Vote! »
And Levi eventually bought in, too. He wasn't thrilled about moving to Waco and originally signed with Penn State out of high school in 2010. He changed his mind three months later and went to Baylor.
After starting seven games for Baylor as a sophomore, Norwood has enjoyed his big break this season. He has accounted for 1,134 all-purpose yards as a receiver and returner, is No. 2 on the team in receptions with 43 for 670 yards and has scored nine touchdowns, including two on punt returns.
When speedster Tevin Reese went down, Norwood stepped up and kept the Bears' offense rolling. Norwood is proud of that, but more proud of the milestones this program achieved.
"It's awesome to see the change that's happening from where it was, even from last year," he said. "It's all exciting and really gets you motivated."
He's looking forward to visiting Penn State again and already has a trip planned for after the bowl game. He still calls the college town home. But he's glad his family found a new home in Waco.
"It was a huge blessing," he said. "I wasn't looking forward to it really at all. Looking back at where I am today, it's definitely been a blessing and a decision I appreciate."