The quiet man
After breakout, Kevin Norwood has been steady contributor for Tide
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's a good thing a picture can be worth a thousand words, because Kevin Norwood isn't one to do much talking. His play is understated, his actions methodical. Look up, and there he is. Take him for granted, and he'll burn you. Consistency is his game. One catch builds to another -- and another and another.
It's the same arc his career at the University of Alabama has taken. He redshirted his first season, in 2009, caught three passes in 2010, 11 more in 2011 and is second on the team with 26 receptions and four touchdowns heading into Alabama's national title showdown with Notre Dame on Monday in Miami. For him, nothing has changed. On paper, everything has.
At this time last year, he entered the BCS National Championship against LSU as a relative unknown -- a backup with seven catches, no touchdowns, quiet as a church mouse. He left New Orleans with a buzz around him, thanks to a spectacular leaping catch over the country's best defensive player, an image that highlighted Alabama's dominance over the then-No. 1 Tigers. The stage had been set for the indomitable Tyrann Mathieu, but Norwood soared over the "Honey Badger" and snatched the ball out of the air for 26 yards and a first down. He flipped the ball to the referee, and Alabama went on to win 21-0.
Norwood would finish the game with a career-high four receptions for 78 yards, but the image of him outjumping the über-athletic Mathieu was the one fans clung to.
He's often reminded of the catch. He has copies of the picture that ran in newspapers across the country, and every time he logs onto the Internet, it's there, too. Before the start of the season, he almost winced when he was asked about it, saying it was "all over Facebook."
"Coaches expect me to go out and do my job and that's one thing I did," Norwood said. "I was practicing hard all bowl week for that and I was just prepared."
Injuries have hampered Norwood's play this season, but not his consistency. He's developed into a leader, playing through sore hamstrings, sprained ankles and everything in between. With all of the turnover at receiver -- starter DeAndrew White went down for the season with a knee injury against Ole Miss on Sept. 29; key reserve Kenny Bell broke his leg against Auburn on Nov. 24; Chris Black would have contributed as a rookie if not for a shoulder injury suffered during training camp -- Norwood has been one of the few constants.
When quarterback AJ McCarron has needed him, Norwood has been there. When Alabama trailed LSU by three points in Baton Rouge with less than two minutes remaining, McCarron found his lithe receiver behind the defense for three consecutive first-down passes, moving Alabama 44 yards downfield to set up the game-winning touchdown.
Again, it was Norwood coming through in the big game, catching a career-high five receptions in Death Valley. But don't call him a "big-game player." His quarterback wouldn't like that.
"Ah, people who say that, that kind of gets me because you pay attention more as a person or somebody watching as a fan when it's a bigger game," McCarron said. "So you can say that, but I felt like he's played that way all year."
It's McCarron who has benefited most from Norwood's dependability. The junior leads the country in passing efficiency with 26 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"He's always pretty consistent," McCarron said of Norwood. "(He) runs routes really crisp, goes up and gets the football at times. You can always count on him to make the play."
Sophomore Christion Jones, who starts alongside Norwood in the slot, said it's Norwood's experience that sets him apart. Norwood has been through enough big games to know how to handle the pressure and work the game plan to his benefit.
"With him being the [elder] of the group, he really knows the offense," Jones said. "Once you've been here [three] years, you kind of get the feel for different ways to get open, different ways to run different plays or how to block and how to control things. He does a great job of that."
He'll have to do it again Monday in the Discover BCS National Championship. The Fighting Irish allow fewer than 200 yards per game through the air and have given up only seven passing touchdowns this season. While the focus is on the Notre Dame front seven that features Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o, Norwood is more concerned with a secondary that touts 16 interceptions.
"They all look good," Norwood said. "The whole defense looks good. They are very sound fundamentally. They attack the ball. When the ball is in the air, they are making a play on it, so we have to be prepared for that."
For now, Norwood isn't making more of the game than it is. Like he did against LSU a year ago, he wants to go about his business and let the chips fall where they may, whether that means making an iconic catch or throwing a key block.
"I prepare the same," he said. "I just want to go out and play harder than I did last year."
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