It's no act — Josh Norman relishes the role of epic NFL cornerback

When Josh Norman suits up for the Carolina Panthers, he doesn’t just put on a uniform, he puts on a new personality.

A big-time film buff, Norman carefully selects his game-time persona from a catalog of favorite movies.

Sometimes, the cornerback out of Coastal Carolina chooses the courage and leadership of Maximus, a key character in his favorite film “The Gladiator.” On other days, he prefers the brutality and “arrow’s-point” sharpness of Leonidas, from “300.” And on still other days Norman craves the “swiftness” and maneuverability of Achilles, his hero from the film “Troy.”

“On the field for me, always, I watch an inspiring, motivational movie before the game,” said Norman, a fourth-year pro who has begun to come into his own this season. “Back in high school, it was ‘Braveheart.’ Now it’s ‘Gladiator,’ ‘300’ and ‘Troy.’ I become those characters. … It’s absolutely a fire under my tail.”

Norman’s love of Greco-Roman epics has served him well. He’s having the best season of his young career — through seven games, he’s grabbed four interceptions, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns – batted down 10 passes and forced one fumble. He’s also been credited with 24 tackles.

Norman’s most spectacular interception came in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints (below, top right). He leapt in front and above of the intended receiver and arched backward to snare a pick that sealed a Panthers victory. The following week, he grabbed two interceptions, returning one 46 yards for his first touchdown of the season. He also scored in the first game of the season against the Jaguars.

Norman is the first Panthers cornerback to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the first month of the season. According to the NFL, he was the first player to accomplish that feat league-wide in five seasons.

That the 6-foot, 195-pound Norman has become a key player in the Panthers defense comes as no surprise to Carolina’s secondary coach Steve Wilks.

“He’s started studying a little bit more,” Wilks said. “A guy that is a ‘pro’ has attention to detail, is consistent, is a finisher. He’s doing detail work in the classroom, on the field he’s being consistent and he’s finishing plays. The things he’s wowing people with on Sundays? He’s doing that in practice every day.”

Becoming a better student of the game — and life — are goals Norman set for himself long ago. Though he wasn’t recruited out of high school, he did earn a scholarship at Coastal Carolina as a walk-on after following his older brother Mario to the school.

“Coming out of high school, I thought I’d get a scholarship somewhere,” he said. “But it never worked out. I didn’t want to put no burden on my parents. They shouldn’t have to pay for school when I didn’t get the grades.”

With no scholarship for college, Norman headed to Conway, S.C., with Mario and enrolled in Horry Georgetown Technical College. He worked on his grades, trailed Mario to practice and concentrated on pulling his act together. The hard work paid off.

“The next season (2008), they got me as a walk-on,” Norman said. “I got the grades that I needed and I ended up walking on that first year and when I walked on, shoot, they changed my position from strong safety to cornerback. I didn’t like it, but it was a blessing in disguise for me because I was able to do something I didn’t know I could do.”

A blessing indeed. Norman went on to play four seasons for the Chanticleers, where he was selected All-Big South (2009-2011) and named to the 2011 AFCA Football Championship Subdivision Coaches’ All-America Team, among other honors. He’s tied for second in CCU history with 11 interceptions and 23 broken up passes.

He graduated in four years with a major in communications and a minor in dramatic arts.

When the 2012 draft came around, Norman became the third Chanticleers player ever drafted. The Panthers took him with the 143rd overall pick, and he is now one of 274 players from ASN-affiliated schools on NFL rosters this season.

“What I try to do as a coach is not get so caught up in the numbers,” Wilks said. “I saw game speed, footwork, quickness and I was intrigued with that. It’s almost fortunate he didn’t show well at the combine because that meant he was still around in the fifth round.

“He’s just a natural. … He used to rely too much on athletic ability, but at this level, everyone has that. He’s done such a good job of studying. It really started coming together toward the end of last year.”

As he’s become more of a factor in the Panthers defense, Norman has also taken his “acting” to a new level. After scoring several weeks back, Norman “rode” the football like a horse, drawing a fine and an in-game penalty. While his coaches are trying to tone down that sort of behavior, Norman says he’s just being himself.

“I wanted to get my horse, Delta, some props,” Norman said of the celebration. “I have fun with him when I’m riding him, so why can’t I have fun doing that during a game?

“But really, I’m just going to be myself. At the end of the day, it really shouldn’t be about a guy in the end zone riding the ball as a horse. After all, people like that.”

And as much as he loves football, Norman also loves donning a new persona.

Top: Josh Norman has become a key player in the Carolina Panthers defense. (Courtesy of Mellissa Melvin-Rodriguez/Carolina Panthers)
Above: Courtesy of Carolina Panthers via Twitter

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