When his name was called last Saturday in Clemson's game against Ball State, the sophomore center was more than ready. Last year, Norton watched from the sidelines like many freshmen do. However, unlike the other young guys, it took Norton a little longer to get used to the idea.
That's because the coaches' decision to red-shirt him in 2011 didn't come until four games into the season. That delayed decision matured Norton far beyond what he imagined.
"That experience helped me out a ton, actually. I learned how to act traveling wise and how to prepare for a game," said Norton. "It was tough, dressing out and preparing all week but still knowing you're not going to play."
A week ago, Norton played 49 snaps at center against Ball State and contributed to an offense that gained over 500 yards. Against Furman, Norton saw significant time at guard when Tyler Shatley was sidelined with a foot injury.
"It was a blessing in disguise that Norton practiced guard in August," said Swinney."We needed him out there today."
Norton's added considerable weight to his frame. He's up from 250 to 275, and for that, he credited the Tigers' strength and conditioning program for redshirt freshmen, "Power Hour," as well as the competition in practice.
"I played with the ones a good amount in August since Dalton was sick. That helped a ton going against guys like Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett, and DeShawn Williams," said Norton. They are really quick and helped me get a feel of what I'm supposed to do out there. They put a lot of pressure on me."
On Saturday, Norton's All-ACC teammate praised the young guy's effort.
"He was getting a little impatient in camp, and I told him it's going to pay off, we're just trying to get you ready," said Dalton Freeman. "Today he had to step up and play for us, and he did a great job."
Norton says he also understands the game a lot better this year.
"I've spent extra time on film trying to increase my studies on the game. That's helped out a lot," said Norton. It's different now, the game has really slowed down for me since last year."
His approach to the game, however, remains the same.
"I believe football needs to be played with a tough edge. You need to have a chip on your shoulder. I've believed that since I started playing, and I strongly believe you can't play this game unless you play it aggressively."
Norton says he hypes himself up so much before games that he's got to listen to classical music to calm down.
Still, the peaceful Mozart, his composer of choice, doesn't change his mission too much.
"I try to increase the intensity of the offensive line. When playing center you also have to be calm, snap the ball well and tell everybody else what to do. I try to keep my cool a lot. But, when the ball is snapped I still like to be aggressive."
"What makes the offense fun is being able to put someone on their back, taking someone from point A to point B against their will," said Norton. That explains the position perfectly."
As far as he's come, Norton knows he's not done yet.
"I'll play wherever I can to help the team out most. I have a lot to improve on, I'm nowhere near where I need to be."
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