A Look at Norwood's Journey at USC

GamecockAnthem.com is pleased to introduce new writer Will Tiller as a member of the Anthem team. Read below for Tiller's debut piece, which takes a look back with commentary on the spectacular career that senior captain Eric Norwood has enjoyed in the garnet and black thus far, and looks ahead to the All-SEC linebacker's upcoming senior season.

The Beginning:

During his time at North Cobb High School in Acworth, Georgia, many colleges were well aware of Eric Norwood, but some had him higher on their wish list than others. The then-rated three-star defensive end prospect initially favored Auburn early in his recruitment, but after an official visit in October of 2005 to Oklahoma State, Norwood thought he had found what he was looking for in a college and committed to Oklahoma State. After committing to OSU, he considered Auburn to be the only real threat to steal his services, even though he had several more colleges to visit on his schedule. South Carolina was fortunate enough to be included in that list of upcoming visits for the 6-1, 240 pound defensive recruit.

Just two weeks after the visit to Stillwater, Oklahoma that resulted in his commitment to the Cowboys, Norwood was in Columbia, SC on an unofficial visit to check out the Gamecock program for the first time. Few, if any, could have predicted just how crucial a role that visit played in determining the success of the South Carolina defense for the next four years. According to several sources, the standout defensive lineman's time on campus could not have gone any better during that trip.

Following his return home, Norwood began to evaluate the pros and cons for Auburn, Oklahoma State, and South Carolina. He remained a soft verbal to Oklahoma State for the two months leading up to his first official visit to South Carolina. The talented defensive end was so impressed by what he saw on his visit to Columbia that he switched his commitment from the Cowboys to the Gamecocks, and stated that this new commitment was as firm as it gets. Norwood remained firm in his pledge and signed with USC in February of 2006.

Eric Norwood made his Gamecock debut in USC's season opening 15-0 win over Mississippi State back in 2006. Norwood recorded 2 tackles and 1 sack for -10 yards in that contest.

The Early College Years:

In his first practice as a Gamecock in August of 2006, it was evident that Norwood wasn't accustomed to both the faster pace and more complex schemes, two of the most difficult challenges true freshmen face when making the transition from high school to college football. However, by the end of his second college football practice, Norwood had begun to show signs of why former South Carolina Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix offered him a scholarship: a knack for finding the football and an explosive first step off the edge.

It took Norwood only ten days following that second practice to prove to Nix that he belonged on the first and second string units in most of USC's defensive formations.

With his non-stop motor and impressive talent, Norwood made a huge splash as a true freshman even though he didn't start a single game. He finished tied for the team lead in sacks with seven, totaled 30 tackles, and had nine tackles for loss. Heading into his sophomore season, Norwood had clearly established to opposing offenses that he was a force to be reckoned with.

During his Gamecock career, the versatile defender with a knack for making big plays has single-handedly removed opposing players from the Heisman race (Andre Woodson), and continues to strike fear into the minds of those opponents who are given the job of preventing him from reaching their quarterback.

Since that stellar freshman season, Norwood has consistently appeared on both the Preseason and Postseason All-SEC first teams. He is the Gamecocks' all-time leader in tackles for loss with 43, and his 22 career sacks place him third on the South Carolina all-time list. He also leads all active SEC players in both of those categories.

Eric Norwood is only four sacks away from tying Andrew Provence's (1980-1982) school record of 26 sacks in a career.

One More Year Of Greatness:

Following last season, Norwood had a decision to make regarding whether or not to enter the NFL draft. After initially declaring for the draft following South Carolina's disappointing loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl, he elected to return for his senior season, choosing to take the route that many other football players - including some of Norwood's former teammates - should give more consideration to, staying in college for another year. I'd be willing to bet the farm that Steve Spurrier and Ellis Johnson slept a little bit easier after finding out that their defensive leader would return to school for his senior season.

Barring injury, the Preseason All-American candidate will make his 26th consecutive start for the Gamecocks when they travel to Raleigh to take on N.C. State in the season opener this fall. Norwood has played in all 38 of USC's games the past three seasons, dating back to the start of his freshman year.

The senior captain and unquestioned leader of the 2009 Gamecocks will anchor one of the more experienced and battle-tested front sevens in the SEC this season. Norwood's maturity is well beyond his years for a star athlete in the SEC, and is one big reason why Gamecocks fans can be optimistic about the chances of this year's "Goon Squad" defense building on the success of last season's unit.

It certainly won't be easy to duplicate some of the numbers that last year's defense put up. However, Norwood's talent and leadership along with a defense that is compiled of several other key veterans, as well as some exuberant young talents, should be interesting to watch this year, to say the least. The Gamecock defense is slated to face some of the most talented offenses in college football this year, but one thing is for sure - They won't have to worry about Mr. Norwood making more than his fair share of great plays.

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