Former State College boys’ basketball coach Drew Frank can still remember the scene, even more than a decade later.
After receiving his state championship medal in Hershey, back in 2003, Jordan Norwood finally — finally — cracked a little bit of a smile and embraced his coach.
Norwood had shown little emotion during the Little Lions boys’ basketball team’s win over Chester in the PIAA Class 4A title game. He stayed cool when he got into foul trouble and he kept his focus when the rest of the arena erupted after a big alley-oop dunk.
It wasn’t until he left the court — after the medal and trophy ceremony and celebration the court — that Norwood let his guard down.
Never miss a local story.
“I share this with Jordan almost every time I see him,” Frank said. “He wall-walked — it was like right out of the ‘Matrix’ — we were going back that tunnel, and it was the first time I saw any real emotion. He was just ecstatic. He easily took four or five steps along the side of the wall as we were going back to the team room.”
Frank recounted the story Monday, days after Norwood announced his retirement from the NFL in a social media post, and pointed out that his former star player waited until he got out of the “spotlight” to celebrate State College’s state championship win. Frank and his former basketball and football teammates all complimented Norwood’s humble, team-first approach throughout his career. He went from an “unassuming” star at State College to a standout at Penn State and to a surprise hero in the NFL, where played on the game’s biggest stage in the Super Bowl.
In his post on social media where he looked forward to calling himself “an NFL alumnus,” he finished by thanking his family, former teammates and coaches, among others, including Frank and his high school football coach, Dave Lintal.
“There is probably no one that has a bad word to say about Jordan,” former State College basketball teammate Willie Morse said. “He is literally just one of the most quality human beings I’ve ever been around in my life — just a great guy, a guy you could look up to, a guy who did the right things, came from a great family — so I think the whole town supported him.
“And we all wanted him to succeed.”
Before Norwood found success playing on Sundays, he starred at Penn State in the same town where he graduated from high school. When Norwood went out to eat with teammates, former Nittany Lions wide receiver Graham Zug said it seemed like everybody knew him. But Zug said Norwood never let that pressure get to him and never talked about himself or past accolades like the Little Lions’ state title run in basketball.
As a Nittany Lions fan, Zug already knew about Norwood when he arrived at Penn State and viewed Norwood as a role model. Zug and Norwood weren’t highly recruited, and they both heard they were too small during their careers — the doubts about Norwood’s size even existed on the basketball court in high school. But Norwood overcame his size with his work ethic and attention to detail.
And at 5-foot-11 and weighing about 160-170 pounds, Norwood took big hits in his career like when USC safety Taylor Mays “destroyed him” on a slant in the Rose Bowl.
“Honestly in today’s game he probably wouldn’t have been allowed to come back in, but it was his senior year, it was his last game at Penn State,” Zug said. “He got lit up, was out and I remember I got put in for him and all of the sudden a couple plays later, he was coming back in.
“I was like, ‘How’s Jordan coming back in? There’s no way. How is he doing this?’ He came back in, finished the game and played really well. ... But he did that his whole career there at Penn State.”
Zug looked up to Norwood and respected him as a mentor. And former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli said he could always count on the unassuming Norwood.
“He was not a very flashy guy — not a guy that was like, ‘Look at me,’” Morelli recalled.
Norwood stayed true to who he was in high school, as he never got caught up in the attention from the basketball team’s run to the state title. As Frank said, “There’s not a big-time bone in his body.” Norwood takes the time to reach out to his high school basketball coach when he’s back in town like he did this past spring. They went for breakfast at The Waffle Shop and talked about Norwood’s Super Bowl-record, 61-yard punt return for the Denver Broncos in their win over the Carolina Panthers.
“What does it feel like to know that you have 11 mature, grown men that you are their sole point of focus? Frank recalled asking Norwood. “They are all coming for you.
“Jordan, he just kind of looked and he said, ‘Coach, I never thought of it that way before, but I wish you wouldn’t have brought it up.’”
Norwood’s days returning punts and taking big hits are now over, but the State College community enjoyed supporting the former Little Lion and Nittany Lion who didn’t say much.
“He just went out and got the work done, and I think that’s why he had such a successful NFL career, too,” Morse said. “He doesn’t need to be in the spotlight. He doesn’t crave the spotlight. I actually think he probably doesn’t want it. He’s just a guy you can always count on.”