Eric Norwood received a pleasant surprise a couple of weeks ago when he went to pay his rent at a Columbia apartment complex. The woman at the front desk had something to show the South Carolina linebacker on the Internet.
A USC fan site has been soliciting Heisman Trophy votes for Norwood through Nissan, the presenting sponsor for the award. With one vote, Nissan opted to give it to the fans.
Norwood admits it is pretty exciting stuff.
As of Tuesday, Norwood was sixth in the Nissan voting, with 8 percent of the vote. He trails the leader, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, as well as quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Florida, Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame, Jacory Harris of Miami and Colt McCoy of Texas.
Since it is a fan vote, Norwood stands a chance to finish among the top three, which would put him on Nissan's official Heisman ballot. To do so, he needs the continued backing of USC fans as well as relatives such as Morgan Blanchard, a cousin of Norwood's in Atlanta who casts the maximum number of votes allowed daily.
Of course, Norwood has as much chance of winning the Heisman Trophy as his defensive coordinator coach, Ellis Johnson.
"I think it's a compliment to Eric that the Carolina fans are well aware of what he means to this football team and what an impact player he is," Johnson said when told of the Heisman campaign.
"I certainly think that he's a heck of a football player, and obviously we all know the history of the Heisman. It's not going to go to a defensive player unless there's something extremely unusual like the kid from Michigan who ran kicks back and all that stuff."
Johnson was speaking of Charles Woodson, the only defensive player in the 74-year history of the award to win it. A big part of Woodson winning was his skills as a return specialist.
Norwood does not return kicks, but he has contributed an interception return for a touchdown against Georgia, a blocked punt against Mississippi and a blocked field goal against South Carolina State.
Norwood has more than lived up to his preseason billing as one of the nation's best linebackers. Typical of Norwood's performances this season was his team-leading seven tackles Saturday against Kentucky, which often double-teamed him at the line of scrimmage and kept a fullback in the backfield to block Norwood in passing situations.
Opponents have found Norwood to be one of those active linebackers who must be accounted for every snap. He is the career active leader in the SEC in sacks with 28 and tackles for loss with 49.5.
Unfortunately for Norwood, none of that qualifies him to be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. He would somehow have to supplant Stephen Garcia as USC's starting quarterback or become a goal-line fullback and score a load of touchdowns to attract national attention for the Heisman. It also would help the cause if USC won the SEC championship and played in a BCS bowl.
Clemson has learned that this season in its Heisman campaign for sensational running back C.J. Spiller. Clemson's promotions staff produced life-size posters of Spiller before the season, and he has responded with outstanding performances. But Clemson is 2-3, and that record has spelled doom for Spiller's Heisman chances.
Of course, South Carolina officials realize Norwood's chances of receiving votes for the Heisman are long. So the athletic department's publicity staff is not considering a Heisman push. There will be no T-shirts or posters or even fliers promoting Norwood for the award.
Instead, USC has plans to launch an Eric Norwood Web site in the near future, one that will tout the program's all-time sack leader for All-American honors. Through the site, USC also can promote Norwood for all the awards he has been nominated for, including the Bednarik, Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi and Lott.
"Obviously, for a defensive guy, the Heisman is a long shot at best," said Steve Fink, USC's media relations director. "But we think Eric is an All-American."
As for the Heisman, USC could encourage fans to continue to vote for Norwood online. Or the school could talk to its head football coach who, as a former winner, casts a vote annually for the Heisman. Spurrier said Tuesday he probably would include Norwood in one of his three slots for the Heisman.