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Norwood a constant menace to opponents

Columbia, S.C. 09-24-09. C. Aluka Berry - The State/caberry@thestate.com
South Carolina senior linebacker No. 40 Eric Norwood celebrates after tackling Mississippi running back Brandon Bolden No. 34 in the fourth quarter at William-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina junior linebacker No. 41 Josh Dickerson, left, and South Carolina sophomore defensive tackle No. 6 Melvin Ingram.
Columbia, S.C. 09-24-09. C. Aluka Berry - The State/caberry@thestate.com South Carolina senior linebacker No. 40 Eric Norwood celebrates after tackling Mississippi running back Brandon Bolden No. 34 in the fourth quarter at William-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina junior linebacker No. 41 Josh Dickerson, left, and South Carolina sophomore defensive tackle No. 6 Melvin Ingram.

A school-record 29 sacks - that number defines South Carolina All-American Eric Norwood.

A school-record 54.5 tackles for loss - another statistic that belongs to the senior linebacker.

"He's the type (of) player other teams have to scheme for, whether they use double-teams or misdirection," says Brad Edwards, a former USC star and longtime pro. "I'm not in their meetings, but they have to plan for him. That's the ultimate compliment for a football player."

Carolina fans know those numbers and treasure all the big plays that the school's best football player in this decade compiled.

They might not know the final - and perhaps most significant - piece of the Eric Norwood puzzle. The player turned down for admission to the university three times before a favorable appeal opened the door to college earned his degree in 3 1/2 years.

"He shows what dedication and hard work can do not only on the football field but also in the classroom," says Tommy Suggs, quarterback on the school's only conference championship team and longtime analyst on the football network. "He is a great story."

The star power in football, especially in the college game, centers on offense. Witness the Heisman Trophy; how many full-time defenders have won the award that supposedly identifies the season's best player? One.

But Norwood brought the "wow" factor to defense in his four seasons at USC. Whether at end, his position for two years, or linebacker, his home for his final two years, he had the knack for being in the right place at the right time - and in a hard-hitting mood.

"His football IQ has to be extremely high; he just has such a great nose for the football," Edwards says. "You go to a game, and he is highly noticeable. He will be involved in the first few tackles of a game and will go from there. He has made so many great plays."

"There is really nothing not to like about Norwood," a Web site that projects the pro draft potential of college players reported at midseason.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt concurred after watching the Gamecocks knock off his team - ranked No. 4 at the time - 16-10 this season.

"That's a real man coming (off) that edge; you have to account for him," Nutt said. "We knew that, but he still made it awfully tough on us."

Kentucky coach Rich Brooks would agree after Norwood's performance in the Gamecocks' 38-23 victory against the eighth-ranked and previously undefeated Wildcats in 2007. Norwood's signature performance included returning two fumbles for touchdowns (2 and 53 yards), five unassisted tackles, a tackle for loss and a couple of pass deflections.

"He single-handedly destroyed the eighth-ranked team in the country," Suggs says. "The thing with him is, like they said on ESPN, when the lights go on, he steps up a notch. There are players who go the other way, but he shines in the big games."

Suggs credits Ellis Johnson, in charge of the Gamecocks' defense for two seasons, and his staff for increasing Norwood's effectiveness with the position change. "They move him around at linebacker, and that creates more problems" for opponents, Suggs says.

The statistics only begin to emphasize his impact, Johnson says. His leadership and work ethic cannot be overemphasized.

"He's more than a pass-rusher or a run-stopper," Suggs says. "He does those things, and he does them well, but he does things such as block kicks. He spreads his talent all around the field."

Norwood toyed with the idea of turning pro after his junior season and announced that intention. But he reconsidered, and the Gamecocks profited from the decision.

"He has represented the university well on and off the field," Suggs says.

Edwards believes Norwood's decision to play his senior year in college helped his pro possibilities.

"He has a bright future (playing) on Sundays, particularly with teams using the 3-4 defense so much," says Edwards, who played nine seasons in the NFL. "The part of his game that is not as strong is dropping back in pass defense, and he will have to work on that. But he will have an impact rushing the quarterback.

"He's smart enough to pick up any system quickly."

Edwards expects the pros to discover what Carolina fans know: the "great story" named Eric Norwood can make a positive impact.

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