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January 6, 2009

Norwood returning for senior season

On second thought, Eric Norwood figured another season at South Carolina would help the Gamecocks win more games and help him land a more lucrative NFL contract.

On second thought, Eric Norwood figured another season at South Carolina would help the Gamecocks win more games and help him land a more lucrative NFL contract.

The USC linebacker said Monday he changed his mind and will return to USC for his senior season, reversing the decision he announced moments after the Gamecocks’ season-ending loss to Iowa at last week’s Outback Bowl.

Norwood was inspired to stay in school by the example of Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, who remained for his senior year, won the Butkus Award given to the nation’s top linebacker and is projected as a top-five pick in April’s draft.

“He was in a similar situation last year with a second-day (draft) grade,” Norwood said in a phone interview. “I think it was a smarter decision on my behalf to help me and help the team, also.”

Norwood said he and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn called the NFL the day before the bowl game to receive their evaluations. The advisory committee projected Norwood as a fourth- to seventh-round draft pick.

After he and Munnerlyn said they were leaving, Norwood returned home to Kennesaw, Ga., and discussed the situation with his mother. Norwood decided Sunday night to return to USC, where he is on track to finish his criminal justice degree in December.

“She felt like it would be best for me to finish up one more year,” he said.

Norwood, an All-SEC pick the past two seasons, said he did not sign with an agent. He filled out the paperwork to declare for the draft, but had not sent it in.

“It was very good to get Eric back,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “I think he realized that was not the best decision after the game. It not only will help us, but will improve his stock in the NFL draft.”

There also is a chance Munnerlyn might reconsider. Spurrier, who indicated Munnerlyn did not receive as high a projection as he claimed, said cornerbacks coach Shane Beamer had spoken to Munnerlyn.

“If he wants to come back with a good attitude, obviously, we want him back,” Spurrier said. “But I’m not sure where his mind is right now.”

Attempts to reach Munnerlyn were unsuccessful.

Spurrier said tight end Jared Cook received the highest projection among USC juniors who asked the NFL for an evaluation. Cook has not yet said what he plans to do.

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.

Norwood is looking forward to getting the Gamecocks over the hump after USC finished the past two seasons on losing streaks. The Gamecocks dropped their final three games to Florida, Clemson and Iowa by a combined score of 118-30.

“It’s just a matter of putting it together, putting all the individuals we’ve got and making it into a team,” said Norwood, who echoed Munnerlyn’s post-Outback comments about the need for an attitude change among some players.

Norwood said players who were stars in high school have to accept their roles on the scout team and make starters work harder in practice.

“I’m tired of just saying we’ve got the talent to compete with (Florida and Georgia). I want to beat them,” he said. “It may not seem not like it the way we finished, but we’ve got the talent.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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