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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
Headline: The Family Business
By Charles Babb
(From November 2006 issue)
If you could star at any position, what would it be? Would it be quarterback, serving as the face of the team and claiming a Heisman leading the team to glory? How about wide receiver, roaming freely through opposing secondaries en route to the end zone? What about linebacker – dishing punishment to any and all catching or rushing the football beyond the line of scrimmage?
One could go through football teams position by position and probably find those relishing every role, but what about long snapper? How many young men dream of glory and fame snapping the football (with your head between your legs no less) while the opposing team sends 600 pounds of defensive tackle to mangle you?
Technically, teams are not supposed to crash down on the long snapper because of the very serious risk of neck or other injuries, but "I'm still waiting for the flag," says Drew Norman the current long snapper for Ohio State.
"In the back of my mind it would be nice," Norman said, "but I'm no dummy; it's not going to come. Coach Tressel always says 1.3 seconds to perfection, so if I can hold my ground for 1.3 seconds we are going to be just fine."
The standard is 1.3 seconds. It doesn't sound like long – unless you have to slow or stop over a quarter of a ton of angry defensive tackles trying to pound your brain into the turf.
Would you, could you, embrace a role where if you do well very few notice, but mess up even once in a critical game, and your name lives in infamy?
Imagine for a moment what might have happened had Kyle Andrews hiked a ball over Andy Groom's head in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl or tossed a bad snap in the first overtime with the Buckeyes trying to tie up the game on Mike Nugent's extra point attempt.
Andrews later admitted, "It probably wasn't until a month or so after the game where I realized that could have really ruined it. I sit there sometimes and think, ‘Man, I could have really screwed that game up and lost it.' But it's good I didn't think about it because it could have gotten to me."
It probably would get to most Ohio State fans as well if they considered the pressure on Norman and those like him – every time they take the field.
A linebacker and wing back in high school, Norman started long snapping when he was in sixth grade for his junior high team. In need of a person to fill the role, the coach asked him if he would give it a shot. Norman found out he could do it and with a great deal of practice became proficient. He eventually earned several Division III offers to play football (one of them being Mount Union), but he turned them down for a chance to walk on at Ohio State.
"As a freshman (in high school) it was just a way to get on the field, and then I just kept doing it," he said. "I never thought it would turn into this. It (became) my way into college."
He was offered preferred walk-on status, but given his size and weight (he is very generously listed at 6-0, 230 pounds), the odds were definitely against him.
"I had some people say I was crazy," Norman said. "A lot of people said there's no way you can do this, and my first three years as the backup here, it's what I used to motivate myself. Still today, I have those voices in my head that say you can't do that. I don't blame those people but you know, when someone says you can't do something it just makes you want to work that much harder."
Norman, in fact, proved he could do it. He won the starting position and following the opening game against Miami (Ohio) in 2005, head coach Jim Tressel awarded him a scholarship. Thrilled and grateful, he is driven to prove the faith his coaches put in him is not misplaced.
"Drew is an extremely tough guy," said OSU punter A.J. Trapasso. "He is a good friend of mine and a heck of a snapper. He works on it. He is constantly in the weight room working out. If you see us on the sideline during a game, we are constantly warming up. He has a lot of heart and he cares about this a tremendous amount."
Working hard in the film and weight room to gain any possible advantage, Norman says, "Knowing you are the incumbent, you have to do even better than you did last year to prove you belong to be that guy. Being the senior leader of the specialists it is a little more pressure to make sure your guys know what they are supposed to be and make sure we are getting things done on the field and off the field. You can always get better. You can keep narrowing your window down, and I think you can add some velocity to your snaps. Your protection can get better. Your coverage can (get better). I definitely have some room for improvement and am probably always going to have that."
As his brother Tony so aptly described him, "Drew is very prideful about what he does. Drew is a perfectionist. If the ball is not right on the punter's right hip but is maybe six inches off, Drew is saying he has to dial that in there."
Along the way, his perfectionism helped turned long snapping into a family business of sorts.
Tony, two years and a day younger than Drew, has also become a long snapper for a college football team. Reached in Colorado Springs where he plays for the Air Force Academy, he recalled, "There for a while after Drew graduated, our high school didn't have anyone to turn to so the coach asked me, ‘Do you think you could do this?' I told him I would work with my brother. For about two years in my junior and senior year in high school, it was him talking shop to me. I would come back from practice, and obviously he would be coming back from an Ohio State practice. I would call him up and say, ‘Drew, this is what is going on.' He would tell me ‘Try this,' and sure enough the next day it was fixed."
It wasn't the first time Tony, whose answers are punctuated with "Sir, yes sir," would turn to his brother – nor the last. He describes him as his best friend and nearly followed him to Ohio State. In the end, he chose to take up the rare offer from one of the nation's service academies, but that doesn't mean he isn't able to be around his brother.
"Drew is one call away," Norman said. "Every time I call, whether it is midnight or noon, so long as he is not on the field or in the classroom, he is going to pick up the phone and be there for me. Our relationship is probably stronger because of the difference."
Nor is the relationship all one way. The former student is now becoming a master at the art and occasionally even helps out his older brother.
"After I got out here to Air Force Academy," Tony recalled, "Drew ran into some struggles. Typically it goes the other way. I am the one asking him, and he is telling me what (is wrong) and sure as shooting the next day it is fixed. I don't know if it was him trying to put confidence in my abilities or he really wanted to hear what I had to say, but he would call out here every so often and say, ‘Hey, my ball is doing this. I'm a little high, etc.' I would give him some pointers."
The two regularly talk shop, encouraging and pushing one another on to be even better. When they are home, they go out into their backyard or over to their high school and snap the ball for hours. They can't keep score, but don't think for a moment they don't compete to see which one can do better.
At the end of the day however, they are brothers, and the closest of friends. It should come as no surprise then that Drew, when asked who he talks to the most, came up with Tony's name. He is more reserved than his younger sibling, but the rapidity with which he supplied his name and cell phone number speaks volumes.
Andy Norman, their father, said, "Our boys never really seemed to have that one lifelong friend growing up – except, of course, for each other. Tony had a buddy or two, but Drew never really did. Tony was always more out-going and Drew was always more reserved. Drew was always glad to have Tony with him."
They are as close now, probably closer, than ever.
"I call him about any problem – any up, any down," said Tony. "He knows about it before mom and dad. Drew is the same way with me. Strictly on the relationship we are brothers and are going to have moments, but we are best friends. I thank him for that. Being two years younger than him, he could have said when we were little, ‘I don't want to hang out with you. I have my friends.' That was just him being selfless."
Their mother Kathy recalled, "Andrew never seemed bothered with Tony tagging along. Actually, Drew enjoyed having Tony around just as much as Drew's friends did! Tony was and is always the entertainer. In school, Drew and Tony were associated like salt and pepper. Drew was a first grader at Immaculate Conception School in Dennison.
"At a school Mass after the Gospel reading, Father Engle asked the students, ‘Who is Andrew's brother?' Of course, little hands went up and answered ‘Tony!' I think Father Engle was looking for the answer ‘Simon Peter!' "
The days of playing in the backyard from dawn until dusk in their Notre Dame jerseys – yes, the same Notre Dame Drew notched a victory against – are long gone, but the memories and the relationship remains.
Today, they are both enjoying success and the fruit of their labor as long snappers at their respective schools, but they haven't forgotten their roots.
Most young players go back to talk to their high school coaches. They thank them for their help at a critical time in their life and frequently will even call them on the phone if they run into troubles. However, once their position or head coach has departed they seldom return; the relationship is more with the coach than the school.
Though his school has transitioned through three coaches since he left, Drew Norman (and as well Tony) continues to go back. He doesn't do it for his benefit but rather for the benefit of the young players – mostly those on special teams and especially the long snappers. It is not uncommon for him to spend time working with their technique and trying to help them improve their game.
Tony describes him as "a role model" but not just for the players at Indian Valley.
"I think what has got him to where he is, is ever since he was wee little, he worked hard," Tony Norman said. "He puts his nose to the grindstone and goes out every day to make the most of every repetition he has. That is something I try to emulate out here, thinking, ‘What would Drew say about my effort today?' That catch phrase, ‘What would Jesus do?' I tell myself, ‘What would Drew say?' I try to put my game to his level is. I feel like if I can be half the man Drew is in life and in sports, then I think I will be just fine."
Andy, humbled by his sons' relationship and accomplishments (they both were class valedictorians) mused, "Sometimes, I am almost embarrassed by the amount of blessings we have in regards to our sons. At times I can't help but wonder who I owe so much to. I often say, tongue-in-cheek, that there is a set of parents here in Tuscarawas County who must be upset. I'm sure that our boys were switched at the hospital at birth by accident – i.e.: we got theirs and they got ours as Drew and Tony surely can't be ours."
As the conversation wound to a close, Tony was asked to sum up his brother in a few words.
He said, "I don't think there is one word that is made for Drew. I don't think Webster's Dictionary will ever have something that will roll him up into one word. My vocabulary isn't the greatest, but I don't think there is one word that can roll compassion, focused aggression, and loving life all into one. If you know, then please let me know because I'll start telling people that is what my brother is. He is a great person. He is a great brother. He is my best friend, and he is an athlete and someone I try to model my game after. He is a beacon for me to say, ‘That is what I need to be some day.'"
Maybe, just maybe, Drew Norman is simply a Buckeye – a Buckeye as Woody and Tressel envisioned they should be.