Norman's not the norm

Norman's not the norm

You could've won a lot of money last August by wagering that a freshman would lead the SEC in all-purpose yardage and break the league record for kickoff-return yards … especially if you'd bet that the freshman in question would play for Vanderbilt.

What Warren Norman accomplished last fall for a lowly Commodore team that went 2-10 overall and 0-8 in SEC play was virtually unfathomable. He did lead the league in all-purpose yards (1,941). He did break the conference record for kickoff-return yards (1,050). He also ran for 783 yards, ranking seventh among all SEC rushers. He tied the SEC's single-season record with three kickoff returns for touchdown – a 99-yarder vs. South Carolina, an 80-yarder vs. Georgia Tech and a 76-yarder vs. Army. He was named SEC Freshman of the Year, becoming only the second Vandy player ever to win that honor.

No one expected such a magnificent season from such an unheralded prospect … including the prospect himself. He admits that a lot of what he accomplished last fall surprised him.

"Just about everything, to be honest," he said at the recent SEC Media Days. "I didn't expect to return kicks or anything but I got the opportunity and took advantage of it."

So, what can Norman do for an encore? More of the same, apparently. After rushing just 145 times last fall, an average of 12 carries per game, he might double that figure in 2010.

"We hope to give him an even bigger role," interim head coach Robbie Caldwell said. "We look to take him to another level, and he's excited about it. He's working in the weight room to get ready, to prepare his body, because you're going to take a pounding in this league."

The 5-10, 190-pound Norman already had to withstand one shock this year. Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson announced his retirement a week ago, with Caldwell quickly elevated from offensive line coach to fill the void.

Norman admitted that Johnson's action left him "a little shocked at first," but said he and his teammates didn't dwell on the head man's departure for long.

"It was just a couple of weeks before training camp, so we had to move on," the player said. "We're still coming in with a good attitude and hoping to have a great season."

Caldwell won't be making dramatic changes in the offensive scheme with the season just five weeks away, and the Commodores are grateful for that.

"We still have the same system. We didn't want to have to change all of that right before training camp," Norman said. "The fact we're going to keep everything the same is a big thing for us."

What he achieved last fall is made even more impressive by the fact Vandy had no passing attack to keep opponents from keying on him. The Commodores ranked dead last among the 12 SEC teams in passing touchdowns (6), completion percentage (48.3) and passing efficiency. As a result, they also finished last among SEC teams in scoring at 16.3 points per game.

Norman is hoping to have more help in the season ahead than he had in last fall's nightmare.

"It was definitely frustrating," he said. "Anytime you can't score - especially in the red zone – it's pretty frustrating. But we're working hard, moving forward from last year and, hopefully, going to have a lot better season offensively than last year."

One way to make sure the Commodores have a better season offensively than a year ago is to make sure Warren Norman gets a lot of touches each game. Asked if he expects to have an expanded role in the offense this fall, he flashed a big smile.

"I hope so," he said. "I'm not exactly sure what to expect but I definitely hope so."

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