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July 3, 2006

Norwood hops on fast track

Eric Norwood didn't sign with South Carolina to sit on the bench.

He wants to play. And soon.

It looks like Shea McKeen's sudden departure from the football team will provide Norwood with the opportunity he craves.

Norwood is expected to begin competing for the backup defensive end position behind junior Jordin Lindsey as soon as fall camp begins in early August.

McKeen was listed as the second-team defense end behind Lindsey upon the conclusion of spring practice. But then came Steve Spurrier's revelation last week that McKeen had left USC and returned home to New Jersey.

Redshirting isn't even on Norwood's radar.

"I'm not planning on redshirting," Norwood said. "I'm going to play. Whether or not I start, that's up to me and how well I catch up with the system and the other players. I'm going to push myself to try to get that starting spot. I don't want to sit out. I wouldn't have come here if I was going to redshirt. I think I can help."

Norwood, who relies on superb quickness and explosion off the ball to elude blockers, intends to win the job behind Lindsey and make a significant contribution this season.

"I come off the edge very well," Norwood said. "I have good balance and strength. I think I'm a pretty good pass rusher. They tell me I have a lot of speed."

Norwood has been busy this spring preparing himself for the challenge of playing in the SEC.

"All I've been doing since the week after signing day is working out," Norwood said. "I've really been focusing on my running. I followed the running part of the plan they sent us and probably did even more."

Norwood was also an outstanding tight end in high school, making 15 catches for three touchdowns last season. But it was on defense where he excelled. He finished with 50 tackles and 11 sacks despite the fact most teams ran away from him.

"Right now I'm at defensive end but if they need me to play (tight end) because somebody goes down, I'll play it," Norwood said. "I've done pretty well there. I would prefer to play defense but on offense I know I could make plays."

He was named the Cobb County Defensive Player of the Week six times in his high school career. He was named the 48-minute man of the Year by the Cobb County Touchdown Club.

He participated in the Georgia North-South All-Star game in the final high school contest of his career.

"I had a pretty good game," said Norwood. He also said he totaled eight tackles, four sacks, and two forced fumbles in his team's 20-10 victory.

Norwood is among the latest crop of players USC managed to pull from the Atlanta metropolitan area, joining defensive lineman Terrence Campbell (Austell, Ga.) and Vandaral Shackleford (Riverdale, Ga.). Defensive back Chris Hail is a resident of Lovejoy, Ga., which is located about 40 miles south of Atlanta.

Norwood played for North Cobb High School, while Campbell graduated from cross-county rival South Cobb High School. Now they are teammates.

Norwood's family moved to Cobb County from Mesquite, Texas, when he was in the ninth grade. He gave some thought to returning to the Lone Star State to play college football but the opportunity to play in the SEC intrigued him.

"I thought about (going back to Texas)," Norwood said. "I had an offer from Baylor. I could have possibly gone to Texas Tech. At first I was big on Oklahoma State. It's a good school and nice campus. But when I came here on my visit to Carolina, everything was great."

Norwood received an early offer from Georgia Tech but the Yellow Jackets withdrew the offer when it appeared Norwood may not qualify after his junior year.

His grades rebounded during his senior year at North Cobb and he eventually qualified.

Although he says he never seriously considered playing for Georgia, the Bulldogs expressed some interest in signing the 6-foot-2, 256-pound Norwood.

"Georgia recruited me and came to a couple of my games but I guess they had interest in other guys," Norwood said. "I never really wanted to go to Georgia. It wasn't a big thing for me."

As signing day drew closer, USC's major competitors for Norwood's services included Auburn, Boston College and Oklahoma State.

The quality of the coaching staff and the family atmosphere of the players attracted Norwood to Columbia.

"I really noticed how close-knit the players are," Norwood said. "The coaching staff did a very good job with what they had last year. They could have had a better record. The coaches are very positive."

Norwood intends to major in business.

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