Eric Norwood had a tough time getting into South Carolina.
It was only fitting he had a tough time getting out, as well.
Norwood, the Gamecocks' All-American linebacker, was among more than 1,100 students from USC's main campus who received bachelor's degrees Monday during a commencement ceremony at Colonial Life Arena.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who gave the graduation address, joked about students who showed up at the arena relieved to find their names in the program. He could have been referring to Norwood, who needed a 75 in the final of a statistics class to finish his criminal justice degree in 3 1/2 years.
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He scored 76.
It was a satisfying moment for a three-time All-SEC player who was denied admission to USC three times in 2006 before being accepted on appeal. On Monday, Norwood became the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
"It came down to this last class. But he dedicated himself and he pushed himself just like he does in football" said USC academic services director Raymond Harrison, who was the first to greet Norwood when he walked off the riser.
"He barely made it. But he made it. I'm so excited for him."
Norwood received the loudest ovation when his name was announced. He spent much of his time before and after the ceremony signing commencement programs for other graduates.
"I'm really sad you didn't win the Heisman," said Lindsey Shatzer, a Charleston native who received a dance education degree. "I wanted you to win."
Considering his carefree approach to academics in high school, Norwood was happy with the degree in criminal justice.
Norwood credited former USC defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix and other coaches for helping him through the admissions process. Nix, who is now at Mississippi, spoke by phone with Norwood this past weekend to see how he had done in statistics, which he needed for his math requirement.
Norwood, who carried a 3.0 GPA for much of his USC career, said he got behind in the statistics course after missing a couple of classes. He was in danger of failing as recently as two weeks ago before approaching the instructor, Maureen Petkewich, and arranging for extra tutoring sessions.
"She worked with me and she understood everything I had been through," Norwood said. "She really pushed me the last week to do good on the test."
Norwood also got a push from his mother, Anna Norwood, after he initially announced he was giving up his senior season to enter the NFL draft. While Norwood thought returning to school would improve his draft prospects, his mother was more concerned with her son finishing what he started.
"I'm proud of him," Anna Norwood said. "I knew what he could do athletically. Now he can always get a job and continue on with his degree if (everything) else fails."
"She stayed on me," Norwood said of his mother. "Just from the fact that this (football) isn't going to last forever."
Norwood was one of five former or current players who received degrees Monday. Defensive tackle Nathan Pepper, center Garrett Anderson and ex-players Larry Freeman and Yvan Banag were the others.
Norwood is not certain when he would have graduated had he not passed the stats class. He plans to move to Boca Raton, Fla., a couple of days after USC faces Connecticut in the Jan. 2 Papajohns.com Bowl to begin training for the draft.
Anna Norwood might have to save wall space in her home in suburban Atlanta for another diploma. Erin Norwood, a sophomore receiver at S.C. State, said he has completed "40 percent" of his degree requirements in criminal justice.
And though it was not always easy, Norwood made it all the way through.