Norwood poses challenge for LSU defense

Wide receiver Kevin Norwood consistently completes the leaps and grabs needed to force big plays against opposing secondaries, making him any competitor’s nightmare.

Wide receiver Kevin Norwood consistently completes the leaps and grabs needed to force big plays against opposing secondaries, making him any competitor’s nightmare.

Some like to call it the “Rally in Death Valley.” Others like to simply refer to it as “The Drive.” Either way, Kevin Norwood has a hard time remembering the ending sequence in Alabama’s 21-17 win at LSU last year.

“Only thing I remember is T.J. [Yeldon] scoring on the last one and me taking a knee and like, just basically, ‘Oh, thank you,’” Norwood said.

But before the Crimson Tide could even get into a position for Yeldon to score, it was Norwood who helped march the Tide down the field, catching passes on three straight plays – all for first downs – from quarterback AJ McCarron on a five-play, 72-yard drive that began with 1:34 left in the fourth quarter.

Not only did Norwood’s contributions to the Tide’s final drive put Alabama in the SEC West driver’s seat, but it was one of a select few moments that kept Alabama’s title hopes alive in a season that ultimately resulted with the team winning its third national championship in four years.

Norwood, a fifth-year senior wide receiver from D’Iberville, Miss., is one of seven current players on the roster going for an unprecedented fourth national championship this season.

Up next for Norwood and the Tide is LSU in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night.

“This is an exciting game,” Norwood said. “If nobody’s excited about this game, they do not need to be here. It’s just the tradition around here, man. It’s just awesome, especially playing against these guys.”

Norwood’s highlights against LSU go beyond what transpired at the end of last year’s game.

In Alabama’s 21-0 shutout win over the Tigers in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, Norwood again had several big catches, leading all receivers with 78 yards on four receptions in the game.

Since then, Norwood has developed a reputation as a go-to receiver for McCarron in tight games.

“I don’t know, he’s just one of those guys in that type of scenario and situation where it’s loud and we have to have a big play, he’s always been there for us, and I’m glad he’s on our team,” Anthony Steen, right guard and fellow fifth-year senior, said.

Through eight games this season, Norwood leads the team with 348 yards on 23 catches and is tied for the lead in touchdown receptions with three. Norwood is on pace for career-highs by the end of the season.

And his stellar play this season has shown on more than just the stat sheet.

When Alabama fell behind 14-0 early in a hostile environment at Texas A&M in September, it was Norwood who helped settle the Crimson Tide into the game with a leaping, back-shoulder touchdown grab along the sideline.

In the Crimson Tide’s last game against Tennessee, he set a personal-best with 112 yards – the first 100-yard game of his career – which included a touchdown and an acrobatic catch that drew praise from head coach Nick Saban, who described the catch as “unbelievable.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s done well at Alabama,” said D’Iberville High School football coach Buddy Singleton, who coached Norwood his senior year. “He was a good possession receiver, and it appears to me in the big ball games like LSU and stuff like that, the ball is thrown to him more than any other time.”

At D’Iberville, Norwood shined as a three-sport star in football, basketball and track, but gave up the latter two during his senior year to concentrate on football when more colleges began to show interest.

The dedication to football paid off. Norwood finished his senior year in 2008 with 54 catches for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with 37 tackles and 11 interceptions as a cornerback.

For James Jones of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., one particular play comes to mind when reflecting on Norwood’s high school career, a play that has become indicative of his college career at Alabama.

“The biggest play he made in high school was at the 4A state championship game,” Jones said. “D’Iberville was down 12-3 to Noxubee County in the third quarter. Noxubee County threw a bomb – they were about to score a touchdown to put the game out of reach – Kevin leaped in the air and made a diving interception. He took the ball out of the guy’s hands and intercepted the pass in the end zone.

“Kevin ended up scoring on [offense] that next possession, and then [D’Iberville] missed a field goal with about 20 seconds left in the game, so they lost 12-10, but if Kevin hadn’t made that play, they were going to get blown out, and he kept them in the game.”

Still, Norwood has often flown under the radar in his time at Alabama, as there is nothing particularly flashy about his game. He is not the fastest or biggest receiver on the Crimson Tide roster, and with the influx of new recruits coming in annually, he may not even be the most talented.

Norwood, though, is fine with being overlooked.

“He understands the process, and it can get frustrating at times, but he understands that when he gets his opportunities, he makes the most of the opportunities he gets and is as humble as you can be about it,” said Rusty Waites, a mentor and former offensive coordinator for Norwood at D’Iberville.

“He doesn’t try to be a ‘look-at-me’ guy or [make] sure you get him the ball,” Waites said. “He just goes on about his business and when it’s his opportunity, he does what basically is expected of him, and he makes the most of it.”

Up to this point, Norwood said he is satisfied with his career as a whole, but there is still more he wants to do, starting with LSU Saturday.

“I’m very excited of how far I’ve come, but I’m still hungry,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t accomplished yet as a receiver.”

If history has taught us anything, the opportunities – memorable to him or not – should be prevalent.