Kevin Norwood is perhaps one of the more underrated players to play for Alabama. Certainly this is true of what we’d call the Saban era.
That’s not to say Norwood is not heralded, he was voted a permanent team captain after all, but he is cast in the formidable shadow of fellow wide receivers like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. Such framing is no disgrace; Jones and Cooper are perhaps two of the best receivers to ever wear Crimson.
Likewise, it is not folly to think Norwood has done more to win games during his Alabama tenure than many players with brighter, bolder, and larger headlines.
Every season I find myself enshrining another wave of players into my list of personal favorites, a private Alabama Hall of Fame if you will.
This year wide receiver Kevin Norwood is first ballot and today we’ll explore why I’m so sold on this newly minted Bama Great.
Kevin Norwood was a nationally ranked recruit out of D’lberville, MS in 2009. He red-shirted his first year and played sparingly in 2010. His participation and production then grew steadily from 2011 through 2013. While his final career numbers (81 catches, 1275 yards, 12 touchdowns) barely edge Julio’s 2010 production (78/1133/7), Norwood’s contribution was equally as outstanding, if only more subtle.
Consider, for example, that 24 of his 29 receptions during the 2012 season went for first downs. An amazing 83% of number 83’s touches moved the chains. Norwood was a first down waiting to happen, which is exactly the kind of player that any coach or quarterback would consider an invaluable asset.
Norwood was also rare in his composition. He possessed the ability to be the star while not being insecure enough to demand the billing. He was simply available to fill the role required of him for the benefit of the team.
What follows are 10 plays that, for me, define Norwood’s career.
#10 – September 2010 vs. Penn State
Norwood logged 3 catches in all of 2010 and none was more famous, or infamous, than his first career catch which was also his first career touchdown. Kevin took a pass in traffic from *correction* Greg McElroy
AJ McCarron 36 yards for a touchdown. That might be well enough except for a young Norwood summersaulted into the end zone to punctuate the feat. Clearly this didn’t sit well with coach Saban and I believe Kevin’s playing time at receiver suffered for it the rest of the season.
I can’t say this with certainly because I don’t personally know Kevin, but I like to think that this experience helped shape him into the unselfish team-first player that he later became. We’ve seen scores of young wide receivers leave the program for reasons of attitude and personality. That Norwood, again my conjecture, was able to learn from this experience may have contributed mightily to his growth and ultimate success.
#9 – October 2013 vs. Kentucky
Make no mistake, this game was never in question. However, Kevin’s Kentucky touchdown was right on time, like so many of this plays. ESPN Draft Commentator Todd McShay, was offering his opinion on McCarron. Todd was stepping through his case that AJ was a 3rd tier pro prospect. His points weren’t horrible, but they were offered in the background as AJ was capping an 80 yard drive with a 20 yard touchdown strike to Norwood.
AJ and Kevin were both 5th year seniors and are pretty close friends by all accounts, so no surprise that Norwood played a role in punctuating a counter point to McShay’s commentary.
#8 – November 2012 vs. auburn
Any touchdown against auburn is a good touchdown, but there’s something especially fun about this play action, AJ to Kevin connection.
McCarron and Norwood actually connected for touchdowns twice in this game. Once for 7 yards in the 2nd quarter that stretched the lead to 28. However, the 38 yard bomb in the 3rd was icing on the cake. It was a dagger play. Sure, it stretched an already insurmountable lead to 49 points, but it was executed with precision and intentionality. It was not a receiver running by a slipping defender or even sloppy defense. Norwood was actually covered pretty well but he managed to earn that step of separation he needed to make the play. Touchdown Alabama! Touchdown Kevin Norwood!
#7 – November 2013 vs. LSU
Kevin Norwood was something of an LSU Tiger killer during his tenure at the Capstone. We’ll see more of his exploits against the corndogs as we work our way up the charts, but for now we’ll discuss his 2013 grab.
Kevin’s 9 yard grab comes with just about 5 minutes before half and it stretches the Bama lead to 10 points, 17-7. LSU scores a touch down before half and then ties the game with a FG to start the second half, but that caps their scoring for the night. Perhaps I’m romanticizing a little, but it’s not lost on me that LSU could not outscore our point total after Norwood’s touchdown.
All of that is nice, but here’s the kicker for me. After the game, Norwood indicated that he been asking the coaches for the corner route all night. Here’s a confident senior in a close ballgame asking for the ball. But he’s not asking for the sake of asking nor is he being brash and trying to circumvent the process. He knows how best to utilize his talents and isn’t afraid to ask the coaches for an opportunity to contribute. Oh, and he makes a fine grab when given the opportunity. Fortunately the injury on the play was minor.
#6 – September 2013 vs. Texas A&M
Dammit Texas A&M, two minutes into the game and our narrative was already blown. All our self talk and group therapy about Saban and Smart having all summer to crack the Manziel code are stripped bare before our very eyes as A&M sandwiches an Alabama three and out with two impressive scoring drives.
But something happened – actually lots of things happened on this action packed afternoon – but I like to think it all started with us trying to work the ball to one of our more dependable playmakers – Kevin Norwood.
True to form, we ran Kevin down the sideline towards the goal line where he made an incredible leaping catch over the defender. He then cork screwed himself into the endzone for the Tide’s first score.
I’m confident that most receivers would have come down with the ball and spun out of bounds at the 2. And that would be a great play. But Norwood appeared to attack the play. High point the ball, check. Locate the pylon before landing, check. Land in bounds, check. Extend across the goal line, check. Put my team on the board, declaring that we’re here to play, check!
That’s how that play stood out to me. That’s why I remember a first quarter touchdown in a September shootout so vividly, because the play was worth more than its stand alone results.
And for that little extra, because sometimes we just can’t get enough. I love the excitement that true freshman OJ Howard demonstrates at the end of the play. Recall, this is only his second college football game, clearly his biggest, and he’s excited to see his team get on the board.
*note, the Norwood play is at the 25 second mark
#5 – January 2013 National Championship vs. Notre Dame
Similar to the prior play, I love this one because it was such a tone setter. Throughout the 30+ day gap between the end of the regular season and the championship game, the chatter was all about the Notre Dame defense. They were branded as “SEC caliber” and widely considered as one of the better defenses Alabama would face all season.
Alabama’s offense against the Notre Dame defense was billed as the key match up, and perhaps that was indeed the case.
Much has been said about how the ND team knew they were beat when they saw the Alabama team in the tunnel before the game. I don’t know how much of that is real and how much is myth, but if we play the mythology card, I can point to a specific play when that knowledge was validated for everyone watching.
On the first play from scrimmage Eddie Lacy carried the ball for a 1 yard game. And in that instant (and for only that instant), all those believing the ND defense would provide a challenge were allowed to bask in their predictions. However, on the second play from scrimmage McCarron connected with Norwood for a 29 yard gain along, where else, the sidelines.
In that moment, all the hype about ND’s front seven bottling up the Tide’s running game was moot. This play delivered the message that Alabama could and would run and pass. Alabama would do what it wanted to do and not follow the prescribed narrative. The Tide did not care about the ratings, it was only there to do work.
*note, the Norwood play is at the 1:45 mark
#4 – January 2014 Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma
One can argue that I shouldn’t include a catch from a loss as one of my Norwood highlights. Sure, you can exclude this one when you create your list of Norwood highlights, but I’m including it.
In this play the first half is winding down and we’re attempting a drive to tie the game – oh what could have been. On 3rd and 5, AJ is under pressure and scrambles to his right and searches out ole reliable, Kevin Norwood.
What is outstanding about this play is the craft mastery Norwood demonstrates in making this catch. Kevin plants his feet along the sideline and starts leaning out of bounds. AJ’s pass finds him a yard out of bounds but Norwood’s feet are still anchored within the field of play. First down Alabama!
*note, the Norwood play is at the 1:14:21 mark
#3 – November 2012 vs. LSU
OK, so this is really 3 catches instead of one, but it’s my list. This is also one of the more incredible and underrated feats in recent Alabama lore so we’ll overlook the liberty.
We all know how the 2012 LSU game ends, right? Huge win against a true rival, heroic game winning drive for QB legend AJ McCarron, and brand new super star in the person of TJ Yeldon. Boxed, bowed, Daniel Im-Moore-tilized.
But as often is the case, there’s a story behind the story. Paul Harvey would be proud.
This drive starts on the Alabama 28 with 1:34 left in the game. Alabama is trailing the Tigers by 3. Including the Yeldon touchdown, this will be a 5 play drive. All 4 of the other plays are to Norwood.
The first 3 passes were all intended for Norwood and two were along the sidelines – where Norwood does some of his best work. Each were caught and these yielded 18, 15, and 11 yards respectively, allowing the Tide to move to the LSU 28.
The 4th play looks like it was intended to go to Norwood from the start, but the defender read the move and was in good position. However, when no one else broke free, AJ took a shot at Norwood in the back of the end zone but poor footing disrupted the play.
From there, TJ Yeldon took his turn and writ his name in Crimson Flame. Perhaps we’ll profile those exploits another day but for now, here’s the final Alabama drive of the game that features a trio of underrated receptions by one of my Bama favorites.
#2 – January 2012 National Championship vs. LSU
I consider this the break out game or performance for Kevin Norwood. During the 2011 season Norwood recorded 11 receptions as he provided depth behind Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. However, there was opportunity lurking as our game plan in this LSU rematch was to put the ball in McCarron’s hands.
That opportunity emerged when Maze, our primary receiver on the season, pulled up with a hamstring while returning a punt midway through the first quarter.
Now, for our game plan to work, someone had to assume a larger role in the passing game. Enter Kevin Norwood who recorded 4 receptions for 78 yards on the night.
The highlight below is, for many, the signature play of Norwood’s career. It’s certainly a worthy choice but I’d personally struggle to define his career with a single catch.
*note, the Norwood play is at the 40 second mark, but let it roll because he has another nice grab about 15 seconds later.
#1 – October 2013 vs. Tennessee
I think my favorite catch by Kevin Norwood came during our dismantling of Tennessee in 2013. In part, this was Norwood’s first 100 yard game. But that, as with many of Norwood’s plays, is only part of the story.
This play takes place with under 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and Alabama staked to a 35 to 3 lead. Clearly the game is in hand and this catch isn’t impacting any outcomes outside of Vegas. But Norwood is following Saban’s directive. Don’t watch the scoreboard, go do your job on the field.
As the play begins, McCarron is clearly going to the right side of the field, away from Norwood. You see AJ check his first two options and then direct Norwood while he runs to line up the pass and square the shoulders. But what you lose with the TV camera following the ball is that Norwood signaled to AJ as well. Here we have two 5th year seniors late in a game that’s already over, 3 checks into a play, reading each other’s minds to find the opportunity that is still available. 34 yards worth of opportunity.
Yeah, and Alabama scores three plays later to push the lead to 42-3. Cigars for all.
When I think back over the last five seasons I struggle to name a player who both participated and contributed as much as Kevin Norwood at a skill position while also garnering, relatively speaking, so little limelight. In near equal measure I find this confounding and satisfying. Kevin Norwood is the Indie movie or craft beer of recent Alabama stars. His charms are easy for the masses to overlook but once identified they are unmistakable and difficult to overstate.
As I look forward to next season, Norwood will not make many lists of the critical players we need to worry breathlessly about replacing. In part that is because we’re also replacing players like AJ McCarron and CJ Mosley. It’s also reasonable to think that we’ll simply absorb Norwood’s production into the depth of talent that remains at the position.
In the broad stroke, with Norwood’s numbers taken in aggregate, it’s hard to fault this macro thinking. But when it’s 3rd and 6, eight plays into an early 4th quarter drive in a tighter-than-it-should-be game we’ll miss having an athletic receiver in the slot or out wide that we once knew as a first down waiting to happen.
Good luck in the NFL Kevin Norwood and thanks for your time in Tuscaloosa.
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