A Year to Remember

It's been quite a year for the Norwood family, originally from Hawaii but currently living in State College, Pa. Father Brian is safeties coach for the Penn State football program, while No. 2 son Jordan is a sophomore receiver for the Lions. He was among the pleasant surprises on a team that went 11-1 last fall, winning a Big Ten title and the Orange Bowl.

No. 1 son Gabe Norwood, meanwhile, is a junior swingman on the George Mason basketball team, the Colonial Athletic Association champion which entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed and promptly stunned perennial powers Michigan State (75-65) and North Carolina (65-60) in the first two rounds in Dayton.

“When I really sit and think about it, it's amazing,” Brian said when asked about the success his sons have experienced of late. “A true blessing.”

Now the Patriots are in the Sweet 16, and face another Cinderella — No. 7 seed Wichita State — in what will essentially be a home game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The game tips at 7:27 p.m. Friday. If Mason wins that one, it gets the winner of UConn-Washington in the Elite Eight Sunday.

The bad news for the Norwood family? Penn State spring practice begins Saturday. But Friday will be a busy day, too, as players are required to attend position meeting. So while Brian has been given the go-ahead to attend the Friday night hoops session, Jordan likely will not be able to make it. Neither will be in position to attend Sunday's game should Mason advance as the Lions have a practice that day.

After making the trip to Dayton along with the rest of the family last weekend, Jordan has resigned himself to watching this weekend's action on television.

“It's gonna be tough,” he said. “I'd rather be there in person. Part of it is guilt, because my brother was able to attend my Orange Bowl game. I would truly like to be there.”

Just over a year apart in age, Gabe and Jordan have always been tight. They sport similar tattoos — Gabe on his calf, Jordan on his back — saying “Ohana,” a Hawaiian word that translates to “family.”

The brothers Norwood teamed up to help lead State College High to the 2003 PIAA AAAA state basketball championship, with Gabe, a senior, playing small forward and Jordan, a junior, handling the role of point guard. A standout defender and solid playmaker, Jordan was the key figure as the Little Lions beat heavily favored Chester in the title tilt.

Gabe Norwood.

Both players were (and are) regulars in off-season pickup games at PSU's IM Building and Bryce Jordan Center practice gym, but the Nittany Lion staff, believing the 6-foot-5 Gabe was too light, offered him a chance to walk on but not a scholarship. So he accepted a full ride to George Mason. He was a deep reserve as a true freshman in 2003-04, and the sixth man the next season, averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. He reprised the role this year, averaging 3.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in 21 minutes per outing.

While Brian would have loved to been able to travel the short distance to the Jordan Center to see Gabe play, he understood what first-year PSU hoop coach Ed DeChellis was up against at the time. The Lions were in a scholarship crunch and had to be extremely selective.

Mason, in Fairfax, Va., turned out to be a great alternative. Though the travel is a little rough, Brian has been able to make it to many GMU home games while he is on the recruiting trail in Maryland and Virginia. It is close enough that Gabe can drive home on fall weekends to watch Jordan play football, as well.

And there is no arguing with the success the Patriots have had on the court.

“He is achieving all of the things he wanted to achieve and more at a level that is storybook when you are at George Mason,” Brian said.

Jordan, meanwhile, was slowed by injuries during his senior season at State High. Though he hoped to play college basketball, he was not thrilled with the offers he received. So he opted instead to accept a scholarship offer to play football at Penn State, with a provision that he grayshirt (enroll a semester late) to add some weight to his 5-10, 150-pound frame.

The 2005 season was his first year of eligibility with the Lions, and despite playing alongside more heavily hyped rookies Derrick Williams and Justin King, Norwood finished with 32 catches for 422 yards, both figures second on the team only to Deon Butler. He also displayed an ability to absorb hard hits that belied his now 168-pound frame.

“I truly did feel I could come in and contribute to the team,” Jordan said. “I'm very comfortable with how I played last season and how everyone played.”

Jordan said he'd love to play competitive basketball again some day, but that he has yet to approach PSU football coach Joe Paterno or DeChellis about doing so.

“I definitely get the itch to pick up a basketball,” he said. “Every little break we get from football, I'm getting some shots up. If an opportunity were to approach me, I would try to pursue basketball at some point. But it's nothing more than an itch now.”

The younger Norwoods' athletic skills hardly come by accident. Brian was a four-year letterman as a defensive back at Hawaii in the mid-1980s, and his wife, Tiffiney, was a varsity volleyball player, as was her brother.

“Joe [Paterno] jokes all the time that my kids get their athletic ability from my wife,” Brian said. “In all reality, he's probably right.”

And if you think the family impact on the national sports scene will wind down once Gabe and Jordan make it through college, think again.

There are three more Norwood kids: Levi (13), daughter Brianna (12) and Zac (9). The two boys are heavily into sports. And Brianna is involved in theatre and dance.

“It's definitely been exciting,” Jordan said. “It's all truly been a blessing, from what my brother's done this season and from what Penn State football has been able to do. And just watching my younger brothers play basketball and my sister dance … it's been exciting.

“It's been a year we won't forget.”


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